Last Resort

         For anyone who has ever traveled to a place where the language is
 unfamiliar or emigrated to another country, the situation can be fraught with
 tension. Films have occasionally addressed this topic but none so powerfully
Last Resort. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and made in an unusual joint
 venture between BBC Films and BBC Documentaries, this motion picture is
 the first in The Shooting Gallery Film Series for 2001. (The company, which picked
 up year-end citations from critics' groups began showing movies that otherwise
 would be unlikely to receive release in the USA last year. Among the titles
 released were
Croupier, Judy Berlin and A Time for Drunken Horses.

         In Last Resort, Russian-born Tanya (Dina Korzun) and her young son
 Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov) arrive at Stansted Airport in London expecting to be
 met by her British fiancé Mark. When he fails to show and the customs agents
 begin to unnerve her, Tanya and Artiom become enmeshed in the bureaucracy
 of immigration. With panic setting in, Tanya requests political asylum. Mother
 and son are sent to a holding area in the seaside town of Stonehaven, a resort
 that possesses more faded glory than actual charm. Of course, the wheels of
 government turn slowly, and Tanya and Artiom are forced to adjust to a life that
 is little more than living in prison. Issued a rundown flat and given vouchers for
 food and sundries, they settle in and attempt to make do. When her fiancé flatly
 refuses to "rescue" her and suggests she return to Moscow, an upset Tanya
 discovers that option isn't as easy as it sounds.

         Life might have become completely unbearable for these émigrés had they
 not been befriended by Alfie (Paddy Considine), a local arcade manager who
 moonlights calling bingo for the local senior citizens. It isn't long before he
 takes a fancy to Tanya, but their relationship develops slowly. Alfie gradually
 insinuates his way into Tanya's life, at first bringing small presents (like food
 or a secondhand television), later helping to redecorate her flat. He also bonds
 with Artiom, and the trio form a loose, if unlikely, unit.

         Tanya, though, is still determined to return to Moscow. Badly in need of
 quick cash, she rebuffs an offer from Les, a sleazy "businessman" who operates
 an Internet porn site out of his office, but eventually the lure of the money leads
 Tanya to try her hand at it. (She can only bring herself to go so far before she is
 reduced to tears, but she still earns her day's wages.) Eventually, she and Artiom
 are forced with a choice: remain in England and build a life with Alfie or return
 to Russia.

         Pawlikowski employs his background in documentary films (like using
 handheld cameras) to bring an immediacy to the material.
Last Resort does not
 have the feel of a fictional piece, but instead appears to be unfolding as the
 events occur. Although the film is set in England, it is a country that is relatively
 unknown to moviegoing audiences. The drab, grimy town of Stonehaven may be
 on the British shore, but it just as easily could be a town in New Jersey or a
 village in Siberia.

         The performances of the principals are all quite good. Dina Korzun has
 some of the same qualities of Emily Watson or Cate Blanchett: From scene to
 scene, her looks metamorphose and she goes from being attractive to stunning.
 Like those ladies, she too can express a great deal via a single look. In his film
 acting debut, Artiom Strelnikov offers a fine turn, eschewing many of the cloying
 tricks that most child performers employ. His naturalistic, even understated, work
 meshes beautifully with Korzun's performance. For a twist, Pawlikowski has cast
 a real-life pornographer as the disreputable Les, so to praise Lindsey Honey's
 performance is a dubious proposition. Just whether or not he was "acting"
 could be a matter of debate.

         Anchoring the film, though, is the terrific work of Paddy Considine. The
 actor offered a memorable turn in
A Room for Romeo Brass and it's particularly
 gratifying to see that wasn't a fluke. There he played a mentally unstable man
 capable of horrific mood swings. In
Last Resort, he displays a gentler side and
 is equally salient.

         Although the company has already received commendations for "rescuing"
 films like this, one cannot stress enough the importance of what The Shooting
 Gallery did by sponsoring this film series.
Last Resort kicks off round three on
 a high note.

                 Rating:                            B+
                 MPAA Rating:                   NONE (sexual situations, language)
                 Running time:                  75 mins.                   
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.