Daniel Nelson

If empathy and imagination are not enough, Adrift: People Of A Lesser God should do the job of giving an idea of what it’s like to risk your life by taking a boat from Africa to Europe.

Journalist Dominique Mollard’s documentary (released on DVD on 20 July) is an extraordinary chronicle, showing the hazards on land as well as water: venal and unreliable contacts as he tries to find a boat, corrupt police in league with traffickers, and dealers who may or may not be rip-off merchants. Revealing flashes of life.

On water, it’s even more dangerous: unseaworthy vessels, crazy overcrowding, adulterated fuel that’s often a death penalty, inadequate navigation, desperate men ready to draw a knife over a disagreement, clapped out engines.

The engine does cut out on Mollard’s boat, and it also finds it has adulterated fuel. Without the journalist’s GPS and flare, that particular group of 38 passengers - including a five-month-old baby - would probably have drowned.

They are rescued by a Russian ship, but after being revived by hot tea and a piece of bread send their hopes of being handed over to Spanish coastguards are dashed when they are dumped in north Africa. That means incarceration, danger, bribery – and a new set of dilemmas. Do you attempt to stay and find work, make your way back to where you started from or risk another dangerous odyssey? So great is the lure that one angry man, we are told, opts for a repeat journey. One of the two women on Mollard's boat finds a job at home in the tourism ministry.

No film can capture the ceaseless rolling swell, the sardine-packed discomfort (no Portaloos on these trips), the boredom, the fear, the uncertainty. But Mollard’s film gets as close as I’ve seen.

It’s an oddity. It doesn’t fit established genres, being too long (100 minutes) for TV reportage, too like a home movie to pass as a cinema feature, to say nothing of his sardonic opinionated commentary.

But it’s a brilliant, brave piece of reportage that deserves to be seen.

•    Adrift: People Of A lesser God, £12.99, Simply Media

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