L’Escale (Stop-Over in English) is a courageous film. Iranian filmmaker Kaveh Bakhtiari spends months alongside his cousin Mohsen, who in his attempt to emigrate to Europe gets trapped in a clandestine life in Athens. Through his cousin, Bakhtiari bears witness to the plight of the men and women whose lives are too easily reduced to the labels “undocumented migrant” or “illegal immigrant.” If such labels belie the often-untenable political situations at the root of self-exile, they also mask the human cost. Bakhtiari shares day-to-day life with a small group of migrants whose solidarity keeps their morale afloat as they await a human trafficker to take them to another land, one where they hope to find better opportunities. Documenting comradely meals or fitness sessions with their resident “Bruce Lee,” or starkly capturing their fear of attracting attention in the street, the film presents each exile’s hopes, dreams and motives. Camera in hand, Bakhtiari portrays his protagonists with empathy, sometimes getting uncomfortably close, but ultimately striking a judicious distance, allowing us to respectfully look on. L’Escale yields poignant insights into what would drive someone to leave their homeland to risk life as an alien — a word that will never sound quite the same to anyone who sees this important film. Essential viewing.