(Pawel Pawlikowski / UK / 2000)
In the cinema I am working at we have a meeting place where most of our regular staff gets together every monday evening. Although I haven't been around for very long yet, I have come to enjoy these gatherings immensly. As you might imagine yourself, the discussions are primarily concerned with movies we are or will be showing, the number of visitors and our financial situation, as well as numerous other film related topics which are discussed with more or less fervor - depending on the raconteur and the situation. Of course there is also some private talk, and when I finally arrive at the meeting - as usual coming from a long day at university and at least thirty minutes late - I tend to lean back comfortably and listen to the casual talk around me - that is if my bad conscience doesn't lead me to add a necessary comment of my own every now and then.
We are lucky to have some distributors sending us their newest releases from time to time on DVD for taking into consideration (no we are not the Academy), and some four or five weeks ago, when we got a package from a small but important cinema in Berlin (I still have a free pass for one of their showings there, and I intend to use it the next time I visit my former residence/hometown), the title on the printed frontcover of one of the DVDs piqued my curiosity. I remembered that I had missed the theatrical screaning of Pawlikowski's last film My Summer of Love (2004) on a couple of occasions, at first out of disinterest, then out of neglect and in the end the right opportunity for it just didn't arise. But as that particular cinema also has an important cinema distribution sector which has brought amongst others Kore-eda's "Maborosi" (1995) and more recently Jean-Luc Godard's Notre Musique (2004) to the German screens, I decided immediately to give it a try. Pawlikowski deserved a first chance after the glowing reviews I had read of his latest effort, and somehow I also found Last Resort appealing as a title. I recalled reading an article on it not too long ago,but because I had already forgotten everything about it, I'm sure my subconscious did the choosing for me. The only problem was I didn't have a DVD player, or more correctly any device on which I could have watched it. So I decided to wait a bit longer until an opportunity would present itself to me.
A couple of weeks later, and here I am typing on my brand new laptop (which will cost me a considerable amount of money in the future, btw), so I am finally able to snatch a glimpse at Pawlikowski's earlier effort - and just in time, as I had already seen an advirtisement for a screening in february at another cinema in the neighboring town. As my busy colleagues hadn't yet had the time to review the movie, I snatched it quickly off the table - alongside two documentaries which had accompanied it on its journey through the german mail delivery system - and promised to do so myself.
Well, here I am at five o'clock in the morning after my first viewing of it, awaiting yet another long and laborious day at the University, and I still haven't written a proper line on the quality of the film itself. Although I would like to finish this petty review right here and now, as I am longing for the comfort of my matress, I have decided to finally do my duty and release you from my unnecessarily long and selfindulgent introduction to this article by starting to talk about the movie.
Pawel Pawlikowski, who I assume is not an englishman by birth, has made a film about a woman and her son who are temporarily stuck in a little town in the UK which bears the trademark of an autobiographical experience. The woman, a hopeless romantic, has just arrived from Russia to visit her fianc in London when she has to discover that he obviously doesn't give a @#%$ about her. Although she is merely an illustrator of children's books, the authorities accept her helpless claim to be a political refugee and send the two foreigners into the title's "Last Resort", where some of the people seeking asylum in the UK are gathered until their fates have been decided. In Tanyas case this means a period of several months, which turns out to be much shorter as well as more pleasant than she and the viewer would have expected. What follows is a cautious love story and a social study which will in the end lead to an acceptance of life and its accidents, without ignoring the difficult lessons you have to learn from your previous deeds.
Director Pawlikowski shows his ability to observe as well as reflect on the characters and their situation, and to reveal them to us through the power of the cinematic image.
Without passing a definite judgment, his criticism of the prevalent society and its structures is still very evident. But what he is most interested in is clearly the people and the emotional landscapes which lie within them. Combining the disillusioned and lonely characters with the harsh and uninviting countryside, we are nevertheless witnesses to the unfolding of a more promising perspective for the future, as Tanya gradually finds the emotional stability she had previously been missing. Illustrating this is the sea as a metaphor for the possibilities but also limitations in life, presented as a comforting and stabilizing phenomenon as well as the ultimate border. In this film, it can be crossed, and tanya will escape at the end from the restricted area with her son and the man who has put the trust into her (played charmingly by Paddy Considine). By this time she will also have found enough inner strangth inside herself to carry on with life, and the crossing of the sea can thus also be seen as a rite of passage. A foreshadowing of this event happens early in the film, when the attentive camera frames her symbolically in front of a yacht which can be seen through a window behind her back. Finally, she will also be travelling on the same transportation device on which she had arrived right at the beginning of the film. Only this time there will be light.
Overall, the film can be seen as a section out of a road movie. The rhythm of the film is very even, with a hand held camera which remains observant and patient most of the time. Although the situations are dramatic, we are treated to them from a light distance and the characters seem to "act" less than could be expected. "de-dramatizing" most of the situations, inner dialogues and their expression through glances and gestures are more important to Pawlikowski than the plot itself, which proves to be a successful strategy, as he is also relying on brisk editing and fast observations on the verge of various moments. The film retains its calm through the assured direction and structuring of each situation within the context of the whole. This also further enhances the presence of the remarkable actors, with newcomer Artyom Strelnikov almost upstaging Paddy Considine. But the center and star of the film is Dina Korzun (probably best remembered for her part in Valeri Todorovsky's "Country of the Deaf" (1998) ) who portrays her role with a quiet beauty and fragility that adds a lot to it.
Drenched in a blue-filtered light, we are treated to a constant repetition of similar actions in the course of a couple of days, while the story is almost telling itself. Pawlikowski knows how to keep our attention, and he rarely stumbles over a scene or a movement, having the self-assuredness of one who knows what he is doing and is aware of his abilities as well as his limitations. During a running time of 73 minutes he proves to be a talented filmmaker who has accomplished a fine film. If I'm exaggerating a bit, I would call it an honest fairy tale. One of those which will leave you a bit wiser at the end while reaffirming your faith in human beings and the opportunities of life. Which is quite something, if you think of it.
The film is available on DVD from UK distributor Artificial Eye.