Last Resort and “The Heart of the World” (review)

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The Accidental Refugee

Though set in a grim refugee camp in Britain, Paul Pavlikovsky’s gritty Last Resort is not a harrowing exploration of the plight of political castoffs. Though revolving around an unlikely romance of lovers who cross cultural and societal barriers to be together, this is not a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. With those situations as its backdrop, Last Resort is instead a thoroughly and refreshingly internal tale of how the things that keep us from being truly free are within ourselves.
Children’s book illustrator Tanya (Dina Korzun) hauls her 10-year-old son, Artyom (Artyom Strelnikov), from Russia to England to join her English fiancé. But when he fails to show up at the airport, Tanya, in a moment of desperation, asks for political asylum for herself and her son. But instead of the freedom she expects from a country like Britain, Tanya finds only confinement and restriction. Virtually imprisoned in a repurposed seaside resort, Dreamland Fun Park — a euphemistic “Designated Holding Area” — Tanya and Artyom are assigned a rundown flat in a grotty apartment block. There is no work to be had for Tanya — except with the local Internet pornographer — and no school for Artyom, so he turns to running with a gang to fill his time.

Another form of captivity for Tanya comes in the form of Alfie (Paddy Considine), who runs the boardwalk arcade… though it doesn’t seem like captivity at first. Alfie’s sentence at Dreamland is self-imposed — an ex-con, he had trouble finding work anywhere but here, and though he is free to come and go as he pleases, he doesn’t seem to care to leave. His kindness to Tanya as she navigates her confusing new world nourishes first a friendship and then something more. Alfie is a bit of an escape for Tanya, a reprieve from the cold life at Dreamland, until we learn that her unrealistic need to always be in love has been the source of all her troubles. Now that she realizes this as well, will she leave the momentarily happiness she has found with Alfie and strike out on her own, for the first time in her life, and seek out true freedom at last? And will Alfie give himself another chance in the outside world?

Pavlikovsky combines documentary filmmaking techniques — handheld cameras, natural lighting — with an improvisational style — working only from a script outline and drawing on the experience of his actors, like real-life pornographer Lindsay Honey as Tanya’s would-be employer — to create a film that’s breathtakingly immediate and tremendously moving. But he never leads us to pity his characters, just to empathize with them. The things that hold them back — their fears and their very human needs — are the same ones that so often limit us all.

Preceding Last Resort at Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles screenings is Guy Maddin’s short film “The Heart of the World.” This exhilarating 5-minute film, which astounded festival audiences around the world last year, packs more of a wallop than any recent full-length movie. Evoking classic silents, the first horror films, chapter serials, and propaganda reels, this mythic story — of Anna, “state scientist,” and the two brothers who vie for her love while she tries to save the world — manages to cram the entire history of early cinema into its brief running time. Silent except for music and sound effects, it nevertheless roars with a love of film, and it will leave you gasping for breath by its end.

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