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Return to Life (1960)

Main image of Return to Life (1960)
35mm, black & white, 29 mins
DirectorJohn Krish
Production CompanyBasic Films
SponsorsCentral Office of Information
 Foreign Office
ProducerLeon Clore
PhotographyLarry Pizer
Script/NarrationJohn Krish

A refugee family comes to terms with living in England and adjusting to a new language and culture.

Video Clips

1. The refugees arrive (1:19)
2. Josef's story (0:52)
3. A stranger's clothes (1:53)
4. Mirko's friend (1:43)
Complete film (29:33)

What do you think?

Questions for the First Impressions section:

Watch the first extract, 'The refugees arrive'

  1. How effective do you think the opening few sequences of this film are? And why?
  2. What do you think the narrator means by 'a look in their eyes' which sets the refugees apart from the usual passengers'?
  3. Why do you think the narrator warns British audiences that refugees may not 'make easy neighbours'?

Now watch the second extract, 'Josef's story'

  1. What are the problems faced by Josef?

Questions relating to the whole film:

  1. What is the role of the narrator in the film? Do you think the use of voiceover is effective?
  2. How does the film construct the characters of each member of the family, given that we don't hear them speak?
  3. Why are the roles of the grandmother and son so important?
  4. Do you think the refugees are shown as victims in the film?

Questions for the Fitting In section:

Watch the sequence from around 11 minutes into the film, in which Josef is encouraged to consider a job.

  1. Why do you think we are told that the experience Josef had as a clerk is now irrelevant since he became a refugee?
  2. What additional difficulties does he face when looking for work compared to a British worker?
  3. What do you think of the scene where Josef's family are learning English? How do you think the family feels here? Why do you think the filmmaker chooses this place to let the characters speak for themselves?

Questions for the Refugee Roots section:

Watch the sequence about the grandmother's letter (from around 23 mins in to the end of the film)

  1. Why do you think the filmmaker chooses to close the film with a letter from the grandmother? Is this effective?
  2. What is the significance of religion here?
  3. Why does the boy's friend David bring a smile to Josef's face?
  4. Return to Life was made for the Central Office of Information and the Foreign Office to mark International Refugee Year (1959/60). It was intended to be seen in embassies around the world. What do you think is the overall 'message' of the film?

Notes for First Impressions section:

  1. This film provides a personal story set against a historical past which appears both bold and evocative. It therefore appeals to our sense of sympathy and empathy.
  2. Often refugees have seen atrocities which we can't even begin to imagine. They will probably find it much harder to adjust to life in Britain and will need lots of help and support from their new communities.
  3. Josef lost both his father and the shop where he was to work (after he left the army) in a bombing. Now, as a refugee he is unable to speak English so his skills are useless.
  4. The narrator is able to reveal each of the family's inner thoughts, hopes and fears. Do you think he is neutral or sympathetic to the plight of the refugees in the film?
  5. We can observe their actions while the narrator speaks for them.
  6. The roles of the grandmother and son are pivotal to the film's story as they both show how it is possible to start feeling at home in Britain.
  7. The family are located to a safe home with other refugees where they are taught English and the father is encouraged to find a new profession. When the grandmother becomes unwell she is moved to a home for the elderly by the sea to convalesce. The family is also given a flat, clothing and furniture to rebuild their lives.
  8. It might be too simplistic to say the family are represented as victims. Maybe better to understand that they were once victims but are now on they way to carving a new life for themselves which they are in control of.

Notes for Fitting In section:

  1. Josef's skills may not be transferable from his job as a clerk in his home country to Britain, but more importantly, he is unable to speak English.
  2. The additional difficulties Josef would have to face compared to a British worker are listed above plus he would be unfamiliar with the recruitment processes in Britain.

Notes for Refugee Roots section:

  1. The grandmother's letter is a useful device because it not only provides the perspective of a refugee who has started to feel at home in Britain, but it also acts as a mouthpiece for the wider message of the film, i.e. that refugees deserve the same respect as our fellow citizens (in fact, even more so, due to the traumas they've more often than not faced).
  2. Shared beliefs bring both the refugees and the local community together - this is a powerful idea shown by the variety of members in the church congregation.
  3. By bringing a friend home Josef's son has shown that he is settling into his new life in Britain. It is a sign that all the family must now move on from the past and make the best of their new start in a new country.
  4. The message could be seen as highlighting the plight and struggle of refugees around the globe and to promote their rights and fair treatment.