The Last Resort (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner02/04/2001

5 stars out of 5
Running time: 80 mins

Timely, engaging, thought-provoking and impeccably acted drama from acclaimed documentarian Pawlikowski – one of the best films of the year.

Last Resort is the first feature film from Polish-born, London-based director Pawel Pawlikowski, and it has deservedly won him the BAFTA for Best Newcomer to British Film, as well as picking up a host of other festival awards. It was filmed in Margate (under a different title, so as not to upset the locals), and was largely improvised from a five-page outline and detailed character work from the two main actors. Russian actress Dina Korzun plays Tatyana, an attractive Russian woman, twice-divorced, with a young son, Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov).

As the film opens, they land in Stansted airport, having come to England to meet the Englishman Tatyana thinks of as her fiancé. However, the blighter doesn’t turn up to meet her, and the immigration authorities don’t believe her story. In an increasing state of desperation, she declares herself and the boy to be seeking political asylum, and they find themselves shipped off to the town of Stonehaven, given accommodation in a run-down concrete block of flats, handed a fistful of food vouchers and told that their claim may take anything from six months to a year to process.

It quickly becomes apparent that the ‘holding area’ is actually more like a prison. There are no trains out of Stonehaven, there are barbed wire fences on the town’s perimeters and if they attempt to leave, they are picked up on a bank of Orwellian security cameras and swiftly brought back by the police. As a result, the majority of the asylum-seekers seem resigned to their fate, and pass their time by drinking and making music, occasionally making money by selling blood.

There are also the ever-present vultures in the shape of Les (Lindsey Honey – surely not his real name) and his internet porn business, who swiftly latches onto Tatyana and tries to tempt her into taking part. Help is at hand, however, and when Tatyana gets herself a phonecard with which to try and call her ‘boyfriend’, she meets Alfie (rising British star Paddy Considine, proving that his spell-binding performance in A Room For Romeo Brass wasn’t a one-off), a worker and odd-job man at the local arcade, aptly named ‘Dreamland’.

Artiom quickly forms a strong attachment to Alfie (Considine again proves a natural with child actors, as in Romeo Brass) and, in turn, Alfie and Tatyana begin a touching relationship. There’s a lot to enjoy here, despite the depressing-sounding set-up of the plot, which, nonetheless avoids making any kind of heavy-handed political statement and even paints the officials in a sympathetic light.

Both Korzun and Considine give truly wonderful, naturalistic performances, radiating warmth and humanity and providing a sharp contrast to the bleakness of their surroundings (filmed in a way that has much more in common with Eastern European films than with your average Britflick). Strelnikov is also immensely appealing as Artiom (in one shot he resembles a young DiCaprio) – his scenes with Alfie are among the films’ highlights. There’s also a nice line in comic absurdity, such as when they spend their food vouchers at the local café and Artiom observes "There’s no fish in this fish".

There are echoes of other films here, too, such as Casablanca, which has a similar set-up, with people awaiting visas and unscrupulous characters preying on the helpless, plus the obvious correlation of a principled man helping the woman he loves to escape. There are also shades of any number of American movies in which a single mother tries to make a ‘new life’ for herself and her child by moving somewhere new. There’s also a nice attention to objects and underlying symbolism (the painting that Tatyana carries with her), coupled with a distinct sense of irony (the Hawaiian beach motif on the new wall-paper etc) that adds considerably to the film.

Finally, the film refuses to cop out and steadfastly avoids any semblance of a ‘Hollywood’-style ending, instead ending with an impressive final shot which provides the only logical outcome, yet still sends you out of the cinema feeling strangely up-lifted. In short, Last Resort is not to be missed, and you’re unlikely to see a better British film all year. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 24/10/2017 10:34

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