Polished Up

With 'Last Resort,' Pawel Pawlikowski promises to be one of the greatest Polish filmmakers outside Poland.

In the 1990s, the untamed lands of French cinema were blessed by the appearance of a Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowksi. He brought the primitive tribal peoples of Gaul a careful sense of pacing and a filmic sensitivity to unspoken emotion. His trilogy, Blue, White and Red, and his earlier work The Double Life of Véronique may well be the four best French films of the decade, and, since his death in 1996, French cinema has not matched the quality of his output.

With a new decade, it's time for another Pole to bring culture to our decadent West. Since Kieslowski has already put in the effort to civilize the feral French film world with his careful camera work and subdued use of music and color, it's time for Poland to send someone to the home of the savage Saxon cineastes to bring them the gift of Art.

With that in mind, the Polish Committee to Acculturate the West has sent award-winning documentarian Pawel Pawlikowski to England to work with the confederation of Viking and Celtic tribesman known as BBC Films.

The result is a film that is, perhaps not surprisingly, most reminiscent of the works of Kieslowski. Like many of Kieslowski's films, Last Resort focuses on the emotional life of a woman and is the story of an Eastern European who has come to the West.

Dina Korzun plays Tanya, a children's book illustrator from Russia who has come to England at the bidding of her boyfriend, who wants to marry her. When she arrives, though, he is not at the airport to pick her up, and, unable to find him and risking deportation, she claims to be seeking political asylum so as to buy some time.

She's sent to a crumbling seaside resort with her 12-year-old son Artiom to wait for her paperwork to clear. Along with the other refugees there, she's kept as a prisoner, with cameras, guards and barbed-wire fences surrounding the compound.

While the plot and pacing of Last Resort are similar to Kieslowski's, Pawlikowski uses a markedly different visual style. Kieslowksi's work tended to be extremely rigid and stylized, marked by precise camera movement and the preponderance of a single color. Pawlikowski, coming out of the documentary tradition, often uses a highly mobile handheld camera.

This works especially well in the scenes that focus on young Artiom. Bored by life at the resort, he hooks with a group of young hooligans and engages in random acts of Britishness, like vandalism and stealing and eating highly battered fish. The handheld camera that follows makes theses scenes seem almost real, as though they had been accidentally filmed by a passing tourist.

Pawlikowski doesn't rely solely on handheld shots, though. He also uses very carefully composed wide shots with a static camera, which give the film a haunting, empty quality reminiscent of Kieslowski or the early works of Antonioni.

As it becomes apparent that Tanya's fiancé will not be showing up to rescue her, she develops a romance with Alfie (Paddy Considine), who runs a local arcade. In the scenes detailing their interaction Pawlikowski updates the trite montage sequence by extending its segments and eliminating the cheesy music. Instead, a series of loosely connected scenes each plays out within its own, proper time. Whereas the normal montage would have simply established that two characters were falling in love, Pawlikowski's version, by lengthening the parts and downplaying the connections, can leave the romance ambiguous.

This works nicely to establish that the feelings between the characters are not well known even by them. When an abandoned woman meets up with a kind, handsome and helpful man in most films, it's pretty clear where the story's going. Last Resort acquires a greater sense of naturalism by not following the standard path.

It would be nice if Last Resort were every bit as good as the films Kieslowski made in the six years before he died, but that would be asking too much. Pawlikowski is still a young filmmaker and there are some questionable choices in the pacing of this film. At 73 minutes, it's about as short as a feature-length film can be, but it still has its slow moments. It certainly won't find a large audience in America, where its overly personal, seemingly unpolished style will clash with local sensibilities.

However, there's always hope that the enlightened people of Poland will, one day, send an avatar of Culture to these underdeveloped and artless shores to bring to the bestial fiefdoms of the Americans that gift of civilization and refinement that they have so generously bestowed, first upon the barbarous French, and now upon the savage English.

Last Resort is playing at Catalina (881-0616).
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