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Refreshingly Peculiar

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2001


    'Last Resort' Artiom Strelnikov and Dina Korzun in "Last Resort."
(Joss Barratt/Shooting Gallery)
A shy but determined Russian woman, virtually penniless and accompanied by her bright, cheeky 10-year-old son, flies into London, looking for her fiancé. But when her intended doesn't appear, she demands political asylum.

In "Last Resort," a modestly budgeted film, shot mostly in a cinema verite style, Tanya (Dina Korzun) is simply buying time to keep from being deported and to find her apparent husband-to-be. Unfortunately, the British authorities take her request seriously, transporting Tanya and her son, Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov), to a depressing seaside resort-cum-stalag named Stonehaven.

Now, Tanya must live in a depressing, cramped tenement, surrounded by surveillance cameras, police supervision and fellow refugees – who spend much of their time lining up next to telephone booths to call home.

Her application for asylum, she learns, is unlikely to be processed for months. She can't even return to Moscow without paying for her own ticket back or by applying for deportation – another lengthy bureaucratic procedure.

"Last Resort," co-written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, feels like a cross between a low-budget short (it's 74 minutes) and an extended reality television piece. Prior to filming, Pawlikowski asked his actors to develop many of their scenes through workshops. He then shot the film, mostly in chronological order.

Despite the quasi-reality approach, a story structure does emerge as Tanya becomes friendly with Alfie (Paddy Considine), a good-natured amusement arcade proprietor who knows everyone in the bleak neighborhood, and a pornographic Internet filmmaker named Les (Lindsey Honey, a real-life pornographer from England), who preys on Tanya's need for quick cash.

This triangulation leads to an over-the-top finale that may take many viewers by unpleasant surprise. But it's easy enough to regard this as a temporary flop on the ice and appreciate the way Pawlikowski, a Polish documentary filmmaker, refuses to put the movie in any particular category.

You can also enjoy the deft, understated performances. As Tanya, Korzun is sweetly arresting, a deeply sensitive woman who is a prisoner of the love she seeks so desperately. As he did in "A Room for Romeo Brass," Considine walks a fascinating line between being endearing and possibly dangerous. In this movie, though, he's eminently more appealing.

And as Les, Honey puts a little "Boogie Nights" sensitivity into what most movies would have portrayed as a completely negative role.

Pawlikowski's style makes for compelling, if sometimes grittily depressing, viewing, as we follow everyone's daily anxieties, seemingly to the minute. We also get the benefit of long stretches of time with the characters, giving them a greater degree of unscripted intimacy than we see in most movies. This open-endedness is so refreshing, it's more than enough to get us through the bleaker aspects of life in Stonehaven – and to root for love between two lost souls searching for nothing more profound than loving companionship.

"Last Resort" (Unrated, 74 minutes) – Contains violence, obscenity, nudity and sexual scenes.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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