Daniela Swarowsky, Samuli Schielke | Austria, Netherlands 2009 | 44 Min. | OmeU

The grass is always greener on the other side, or so the well-known saying claims. In Messages from Paradise #1, the first part of a trilogy, this maxim is articulated by a young Egyptian on a rural rooftop, his horizon defined by raw brick houses, piles of hay, and satellite dishes. He seeks advice from migrants abroad and is offered a response from the lush gardens of Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Habsburg’s imperial family. There, speaking beside the meticulous flower beds, an older Egyptian migrant identifies with this youth’s longing to travel but also cautions that Europe is not really the place that people imagine it to be.

In Messages from Paradise, four young Egyptian men, all of them born and raised in the same small village in the Nile Delta, speak of their dreams of migrating to Europe, where one is assumed to obtain freedom, financial gain, and self-realization. Some of them pragmatic planners and others philosophical dreamers, they all aspire to escape the suffocating frustrations they deem intrinsic to life in Egypt. Each believes that traveling to Europe would help them to a better life.

The camera then takes us to the other side of the fence, where we meet nine Egyptians living in Austria who share their personal experiences with migration. Some settled in Vienna for good and others eager to meet their goals and move on; they include a student, a taxi driver, a former boxer, a dancer and cook, a rose peddler, a tile artist, and an intellectual who insists on speaking in German. These migrants tell of their impetus to travel abroad, describe what they see as the advantages and disadvantages of life in Europe, and share their nostalgia for their homeland. In telling their tales of migration, they reveal that the realities of living in Europe are more complex and nuanced than they themselves might have dreamt of before they originally left home. Few have found the trick of how to settle without being split: Leaving the old dreams aside and finding new and unexpected ones.