“With I Don’t Know Where You Will Be Tomorrow, Roy presents a far more clever insight than a first glance would indicate into an oppressive system, watching through the eyes of an empathetic person trapped inside it.”
Hopelessness, frustration, anger, dejection. Reem Mansour, a general practitioner at a detention centre for undocumented foreigners threatened with expulsion from France, has more to cure than the odd headache or a lingering heart condition. Above all she is a listening ear to the men across her desk who vent their despair and fury at their treatment. None of them, including Mansour, knows what lies in store for them, which gives this portrait of a glimmer of empathy in a heartless immigration system its title I Don’t Know Where You Will Be Tomorrow. Director Emmanuel Roy, probably best known for his most recent work How to Make a Ken Loach Film (starring, you guessed it, Ken Loach), niftily uses Mansour as a sounding board for the stories of these men; stories that speak of racism, violence, and of a myriad of incomprehensible decisions by authorities that aim to crush the spirit of those they detain. “This place isn’t normal,” Mansour keeps repeating, as she tries to engage with her clients in as normal a way as possible. But the high grey walls, topped with barbed wire, that make up the film’s final shots show how Mansour is just as trapped in this abnormal place as the men she tries to help.
That abnormal place is the Le Canet Administrative Detention Centre in Marseille. Undocumented foreigners can be held in there to a maximum of 90 days, while the French government tries to send them back to their country of origin. That term is loosely used, as some of them have been in France for decades. It is notable that most of the conversations between Reem Mansour and her patients are in French, which her counterparts seem to speak perfectly fine. The odd conversation is in Arabic, a background she shares with most of the men. We never see their faces, as Roy films them from behind, staying focused on Mansour trying to be a physician, a psychiatrist, and a sounding board at the same time. She works hard to convince some of them to take prescribed medicines (or the opposite), constantly repeating that she can’t force them. She explains procedures, absorbs frustration, helps them figure out the next steps in their ordeal. But it’s hard, and in one case she literally has to utter the film’s title. What is care in a situation with so little perspective?
Mansour is a beacon of patience and compassion, but behind her face mask (the film was shot during the pandemic) we can see her own perspective diminishing over time. The film is as much an ode to her and the Reem Mansours of this world as it is a film about the cruelty of the system. It’s papering over the cracks, and she seems to know it, but she still tries to treat everyone as humanely as possible. They are in this together, she and her clients, and in a way she is detained as well. She can escape those high concrete walls every night, but she can’t escape the system. This is also reflected in Roy’s choice to film the consults and the way Mansour is framed in them. In essence I Don’t Know Where You Will Be Tomorrow is just a series of conversations between two desperate people, one desperate to get out and one desperate to help, but by focusing on the content of those conversations while showing only one of them en face underlines the isolated position of Mansour within the whole system. With I Don’t Know Where You Will Be Tomorrow, Roy presents a far more clever insight than a first glance would indicate into an oppressive system, watching through the eyes of an empathetic person trapped inside it.