Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dina Korzun, Artyom Strelnikov, Paddy Considine, Lindsey Honey, Perry Benson, Katie Drinkwater, Dave Bean, Adrian Scarborough, David Auker, Bruce Byron, Jim Trevellyan, Marcus Redwood, Zoe Sharpe, Daniel Mobey
Written by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 73
Date: 22/08/2000

Last Resort (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Washed Up at 'Last Resort'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following on the heels of excellent films such as Croupier, Human Resources and A Time for Drunken Horses, the Shooting Gallery takes aim with its third film series. If the program's first entry, Last Resort, is any indication, we're in for another set of stunners.

Polish writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski's Last Resort spends its 75 minutes slowly, shyly building atmosphere rather than subplots. The lovely and luckless Tanya (Dina Korzun) and her 10-year-old son Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov) arrive in England out of Russia looking for Tanya's fiancée. Desperate and confused, Tanya applies for political asylum, hoping the unseen fiancée will rescue them. In the meantime, Artiom and his mother land in a crumbling flat and are branded as refugees. They befriend a local perpetually-unshaven arcade owner named Alfie (Paddy Considine).

Last Resort fluctuates between Tanya's discouraging survival efforts and happy times spent with Alfie. In other words, Tanya is torn between taking flight and setting down roots. Tanya and Artiom attempt two bungled escapes, which only serve to cement their stay in Stonehaven. Though the seaside town exists in a kind of rotting sleaze, Alfie and his arcade seem to offer a warm respite (the arcade's sign, visible from Tanya's and Artiom's window, says "Dreamland Welcomes You") with its squawking games and like-clockwork bingo tournaments.

Yet Tanya fights against settling down. Perhaps Alfie is too nice and she needs someone who requires higher maintenance. Alone with Alfie, Artiom suggests that his mother "likes men who are mean to her." To this end, Tanya's self-loathing brings her to strip for an Internet porn king, but she breaks down in tears halfway through her performance. Likewise, Artiom quickly falls in with a group of young hoodlums committing petty crimes to kill time.

Pawlikowski's work verges on the neo-realism established by films like Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1942) and Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thief (1949). He reportedly worked without a script, improvising and developing characters and situations with the actors.

But Last Resort is too stylized to be so easily defined, though Pawlikowski keeps the style virtually invisible. Seemingly random events, such as the "Dreamland" sign and the trio watching a nature program on television -- heightening the sexual tension between Tanya and Alfie -- actually are carefully placed.

Also, Last Resort doesn't try to bash us over the head with a statement about how dismal or random life is. It simply captures a small breath of life in a place where we might not otherwise look for it.

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