A documentary about harrowing loss and fleeting joy, Agnieszka Zwiefka‘s “Silent Trees” follows a grieving family of Kurdish refugees escaping legal limbo. With animated interludes that function as flashbacks, it captures the world through the bespectacled eyes of a soft-spoken 16-year-old, Runa, a girl forced to grow up far too quickly in a Polish refugee camp.

The film plays like a follow-up and companion piece to another recent Polish production detailing the same inhumane premise: Agnieszka Holland’s “Green Border,” a haunting dramatization of the “red zone” between the borders of Poland and Belarus, where numerous Middle Eastern migrants have been cruelly bounced back and forth between the two countries. Guerrilla cell-phone footage introduces us to the grim violence therein, laying the foundation for Runa’s coming-of-age story through dark, pixelated images of what she, her parents and her four younger brothers have been through.

Having escaped this legal no man’s land, they are effectively the lucky ones, but their troubles are far from over. When we first meet Runa’s family, her mother — pregnant with the family’s sixth child — lays dying in a hospital from the hypothermia that set in at the frigid border. Her father, an illiterate hairdresser, searches for ways to make ends meet while they wait for temporary asylum, while Runa herself painstakingly learns English from her new friends and various social workers, so that she can eventually learn Polish and become her family’s interpreter.

In capturing this arduous emotional journey — during which it feels like the ground beneath Runa’s family could crack open at any second — Zwiefka’s camera remains a gentle observer. It reckons, at times, with the ethics of capturing this story in the first place, and embodies this artistic dilemma by occasionally obscuring the family’s most difficult moments behind doors left slightly ajar. While Runa and her father do their best to keep their feelings in check, their resolve is challenged by each new emotional and legal hurdle, and by ways in which Runa’s brothers deal with the situation: with exasperated, adolescent rage that’s occasionally too gut-churning to watch.

Zwiefka eventually comes down on the side of portraying these experiences in full, and in the process, she captures the looming uncertainty that follows the family even when their situation seems to improve. She also occasionally returns to the site of their most recent trauma: the frigid, liminal forest between two countries where they were led astray by predatory traffickers and had their humanity subsequently stripped by two different governments using them as bargaining chips.

This political backdrop hovers over the story via news broadcasts in the background, but the film never cuts away from its subjects for the sake of exposition. Instead, it captures what they hear and see in real time, with their smartphones as windows to both their remaining family in Iraq, and to the government mouthpieces that dehumanize them with dangerous propaganda. Zwiefka and cinematographer Kacper Czubak also use phone screens to light some of the movie’s most emotionally powerful moments, including and especially Runa’s father receiving bad news in a darkened car, as his device illuminates the tears he tries so hard to withhold.

But the camera also has its limits, and where it cannot go — into the past, and into Runa’s imagination — the animation goes instead. The film, in this way, resembles Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” which disguises the identities of its refugee subjects using hand-drawn sequences. However, in this case, the animated scenes by Yellow Tapir Films work as extension of Runa herself. She’s seen occasionally sketching her memories and surroundings in black and white, and the studio’s cartooning matches her style as it depicts, with abstract flourishes, both her dreams and her darkest fears, as the trees of the red zone forest take on disturbingly ghostly qualities.

A film in which daily uncertainties hollow its subjects out from within — but in which even the smallest joys start to feel defiant — “Silent Trees” puts human faces to the statistics and news tickers that have defined modern refugee crises. It’s a family drama first and foremost, embodied by a young girl coming of age and finding her place in a world intent on rejecting her very existence.

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