There are two ways of watching this film - you can watch it as a political polemic, or as a drama. The problem is that the drama seriously undermines the political stuff. By making the young man's desire to escape from Calais into England all about his love for a girl, the filmmakers undermined the horribleness of the situation in Calais. One feels that, were it not for the fact that the girl he loves is in England, the man would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of his days bumming around Calais.
However, if one chooses not to take this as a political polemic (which is the way I take it, because I'm not in France and therefore it makes no difference to anyone in the world what I think of their immigration policy,) it is a highly effective drama. Yes, sometimes it does slip in to melodrama (like the climax of the film, and the fact that his one true love is being forced into an arranged marriage gasp oh my gosh,) but the non-melodramatic parts are very effective. Take the relationship between the swimming instructor and his soon to be ex-wife. There is an undercurrent of emotion there that is always apparent but almost never acknowledged, meaning that a scene as simple as the ex-wife coming over to collect some of her books and nicknacks is given a melancholic sort of subtext. And I liked the fact that this relationship was left almost completely unresolved, and the resolution the film decides to give us is minimal and fleeting.
This was a very good film, but was not that good a political message. But I'm fine with that. Political-messagey films are almost always terrible. It's good to find one that spends its time on character, rather than using its characters as walking mouthpieces. There are no big speeches in this movie, and when characters ask why they help these people their response is invariably, "I don't know."