In the town of Borlange, whose motto is “Nice People”, the locals are uneasy about the large number of Somalis who seemingly don’t want to integrate. In steps Patrik Andersson, a local snakeskin-boot-wearing entrepreneur, who fervently believes that all this can be fixed with a simple game of Bandy – like ice hockey but on a soccer pitch. But not just any game of Bandy; a game of Bandy at the National Championships in Russia.
This is the set-up for the hilarious and touching docu-film “Nice People” which we saw last week at a screening by the Swedish Embassy.
Swedes, and Borlangers, are nice people. But migration into Sweden has been crazy high for many years now, and some residents are afraid. You know the drill – the migrants are all slackers, they don’t integrate, there are areas of the town where you can’t see a white face, they are here to steal our bikes. Well, maybe that last one’s a peculiarly Nordic one. But we hear the same thing all over the world in areas of dense immigration. Especially that old chestnut – they don’t integrate.
How can you integrate if no one will accept you? How can you hold out your hand in friendship, knowing no one else is going to extend theirs to take it?
When my mum moved to Australia, she wanted to ‘integrate’. In any case, she wanted to learn the language, and make friends, and not just the ones in her limited Croatian circle. And the Australian government put on free language classes for migrants, which she attended for a few months. But she had to work, and the classes were late in the evenings in a strange new city. One night on her way home she was almost assaulted. She did not return to class.
How can you integrate when you can’t speak the language? How can you learn the language if you’re afraid for your safety? How can you make friends with locals when they shun you and don’t try to understand you?
But back to the film. The Somalis learn to skate and they make it to the World Championships in Russia, where they have never been so cold. They score just one goal and are utterly defeated in every game. But they have a great time, and learn a lot.
Do they come any closer to understanding their adopted country? Do the locals reach out to befriend them, now that they are national sportsmen? The film kind of forgets to explore that part, actually, in the drama of the game itself. Andersson, the PR man, becomes a source of amusement; he’s more interested in how he looks than in how the Somalis are getting on. The town’s other prominent immigrant, Chinese restaurateur Tang, gets some cracker scenes where he exhorts the Somalis to prove that immigrants aren’t shit. The Somalis, meanwhile, get on with the job of learning to skate and becoming a team.
Do they become Borlanger’s team? Are they accepted? We don’t know. Perhaps that’s another film. But there were plenty of tears, happy tears, at the end of the film. And a promise that maybe, just maybe, sport can bring us all closer together.