Nick Broomfield is well known for his documentary films like Kurt and Courtney, Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam, and Fetishes, but this is his first time working with a script on a narrative film. At least, that's what he'd like to have you believe. He told us during the Q&A that he had previously made a scripted film, but that it was, "such shit, and no one ever saw it." Thankfully, Ghosts was extremely compelling and has hopefully encouraged him to make more scripted films.
While this isn't a documentary film, Broomfield worked with what he knew and this movie is filmed very documentary-style. The cameras are mostly handheld, and at times subtitles will pop up at the bottom of the screen with information like: "These workers typically make £30 per month" and so on. It isn't jarring enough to take you out of the story, but what it cleverly manages to do is make you feel like you're watching a documentary subject at times.
The story revolves around a young, single mother in China who decides to become an illegal worker in the UK so that she can better provide for her son. The journey from China to the UK costs her $25,000, which she will have to work off during her first two years, and takes an astonishing six months. Once she makes it to her destination, she is taken into a ramshackle home crammed with other illegals, and forced to work a steady series of low-wage jobs, like a meat factory, and finds her salary taxed by almost 50%. It's a far cry from the life she imagined would be waiting on her once she arrived.
The main character, Ai Qin, is played by Ai Qin Lin, whose own life very closely mirrors what takes place in the film. She decided to enter the UK as an illegal immigrant to seek work, and had to leave her son back home in China. Whenever possible, Broomfield used actual illegals who were able to bring reality to the project, and shape the script as they filmed it. Qin is a wonderfully engaging actress who you empathize with completely, and she does an outstanding job in this film, especially in conveying the emotion and desperation she feels. There is one incredibly human moment where she is desperately trying to open the bus window so that she can say goodbye to her infant son. The window fails to open as the bus pulls away, and the pain is evident on her face.
While the story is set in the UK, Broomfield goes out of his way to show the insular lives of the immigrants, and the conditions they are forced to live in, which include the hate crimes they endure. Their only interactions with British citizens are with the slimy landlord of the house they live in, the workers they are forced to bribe at the employment offices, and the workers they occasionally meet on the job. Other than that, this story could be told in several different countries around the world.
The tragic ending in this film was inspired by real events which, in turn, inspired the film, and Broomfield has helped set up a fund of the victims of that event which you can learn more about here. While the documentary-style shooting was a bit distracting at first, you'll be surprised how it becomes such an organic part of the film. Combined with Ai Qin Lin's performance and real life experiences, Ghosts is a powerful and tragic film.