A scene from 'Last Resort'
Courtesy Photo
*** stars 76 minutes | Unrated
Opened: Friday, February 23, 2001
Written & directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring Dina Korzun, Artiom Strelnikov, Paddy Considine, Lindsey Honey


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Abandoned by her Western fiancé, naive young Russian immigrant's 'Last Resort' is a refugee camp

By Rob Blackwelder

Polish writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski pulls the viewer right into the anxiety-drowned heart of a young, naive Russian immigrant in "Last Resort," a visceral, intimate drama that takes place in an internment camp for political refugees on the dreary coast of England.

Tanya (Dina Korzun) had never intended to land in a place like this -- an abandoned, deteriorating hotel turned into tenement housing -- when she flew to Britain with her 10-year-old son. Her English fiancé was supposed to meet them at the airport. He was their ticket to a better life in the West. But he never arrived and in desperation she requests political asylum to stay in the country, convinced her white knight is still coming.

Little did she know what she was getting into with this request. Stuck in a bare room and not allowed to leave the compound, fragile Tanya's frustration and grief begin to get the better of her when she learns that she can't even withdraw her sanctuary request and go back home without filling out a form that will take months to process. She is trapped in a claustrophobic corner of a foreign land with no one but her own child to depend on.

Reminiscent of a Lars Von Trier film ("Breaking the Waves," "Dancer in the Dark") in atmosphere, character and all-consuming empathy, "Last Resort" even features at its center the same kind of sacrificial innocent that so intrigues the Danish master of the minimalist Dogme95 filmmakers' collective. Korzun, a wide-eyed, timid beauty, gives the kind of potently anguished yet tentatively optimistic performance that makes the viewer want to rescue her -- especially when a greasy internet porn magnate comes skulking around the refugee camp, recruiting pretty, destitute immigrants with the lure of quick cash.

Tanya's street-savvy boy Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov) greets their circumstances with more fury than his mother, but he also adapts better to their new environment, befriending the gypsy hustlers that stand just outside the camp selling space heaters and microwaves to the immigrants. But Artiom gets closest to Alfie (Paddy Considine, "A Room for Romeo Brass"), the slightly disquieting manager of an arcade at a near-shuttered amusement park adjacent to the camp. Alfie becomes fixated on Tanya, assigning himself the role of her protector and provider, which makes her nervous and uneasy.

Director Pawlikowski, who wrote only an outline of a script and let the story develop through the performers, maintains an air of tense unpredictability throughout "Last Resort," which helps pull the audience in as concerned participants in the plight of Tanya and Artiom. The gray, wet ambience accentuates the film's inimical setting. The unrehearsed acting intensifies the captivating realism. The only distraction from the absorbingly personal nature of the picture is its unprofessionally shaky HandyCam photography.

Intended as another way to break the fourth wall and envelop the viewer, cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski seems to be over-caffeinated. Instead of bringing you closer to the characters -- as hand-held shooting has in Von Trier's films, here the technique just makes you want to shout "stand still!"

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