The Last Resort
review by Dan Lybarger, 2 March
As one can expect from a movie
titled Last Resort, the first fiction film from Polish
director Pawel Pawlikowski is often downbeat. While it centers on
the lives of two Russian refugees stuck in a strange limbo in the
seaside tourist town of Stonehaven in the U.K., the movie is
frequently engrossing because it presents them in a believable and
sympathetic manner. Pawlikowski cut his teeth making documentaries,
and the handheld camerawork that is common in those types of films
makes The Last Resort seem even more authentic.
The story (by Pawlikowski and Rowan
Joffe) follows a young widow named Tanya (Dina Korzun) and her son
Artiom (astonishing newcomer Artiom Srelnikov) as they go through
customs at the airport. Because of some of the valuable belongings
she has brought along (like furs and artwork), it’s obvious they
aren’t tourists. The two hope to start new lives in London with
Tanya’s fiancée Mark.
They wait for hours, but Mark never
appears. Wondering why he hasn’t shown up, Tanya tells the
immigration officials that she’s a political refugee. She hopes
this will get her preferential treatment. Instead, the authorities
force her and Artiom to stay in a rundown hotel and refuse to let
her leave until all of the paperwork has been processed. This, they
reassure her, takes a mere twelve months. Stuck without money or
friends, Tanya struggles to find a job (her only previous work was
writing and illustrating children’s books) or a way to sneak to
London. Despite constant effort, they wind up in a further muddle.
In addition to imbuing Last
Resort with a convincingly gritty atmosphere, Pawlikowski also
loads the film with several fascinatingly seedy characters.
Real-life pornographer Lindsey Honey is eerily charming as an
internet-based skin merchant. Likewise, many of the other
performances seem more lived than acted. The bureaucrats in the film
come across bored and impassive, as if the routine has numbed them
Korzun, however, provides a real
contrast to her surroundings. She projects a vitality and
vulnerability that makes identifying with her remarkably easy.
She’s never glamorized (which would undermine what Pawlikowski’s
trying to do), often looking as if she’s been forced to wear the
same clothes for days. Still, she cuts a striking figure, so it’s
easy to see why she’s a major star in Russia.
While at times a little redundant, The
Last Resort is able to present the Tanya’s plight without
degenerating into a diatribe about the insensitivity of immigration
officials. There’s a remarkably skilled, if star-crossed, love
story between Tanya and Alfie (Paddy Considine), a local jack-of-all
trades who befriends the beleaguered duo. The two have a genial
rapport, but Pawlikowski gives us plenty of signs that it might not
last. Alfie is intriguing because he can be either generous or
hostile at a moment’s notice. Considine, has appeared previously
in A Room for Romeo Brass. Nonetheless, his handsome but
unpolished features make him a credible jack-of-all-trades.
A lot of recent films, particularly
a lot Hollywood flicks, have suffered because many filmmakers are
under the impression that realistic settings or characters aren’t
interesting. By following the lives of two inadvertent refugees and
the working class community they arrive in, Pawlikowski proves this
notion to be false.
This film has not
yet been rated