Vodka Lemon Review

Vodka Lemon takes place in a Kurdish village in Armenia. It’s the dead of winter, with temperatures twenty below zero and more. Hamo (Romen Avinien) is a widower in his sixties, who visits his wife’s grave and talks to her there. While there he meets Nina (Lala Sarkissian), a widow with a daughter, and finds himself drawn to her.

It’s fair to say that examples of Armenian cinema are not thick on the ground. In what reaches British release at least, it’s represented almost entirely by the Canadian-based Atom Egoyan, who in films such as Ararat has dealt with his Armenian heritage. Vodka Lemon is very different. Hineer Saleem is an Iraqi Kurd based in Paris, and as he makes clear in the documentary that accompanies his film, Vodka Lemon is as much a Kurdish story. The situation in Iraq made filming there impossible, so the story was written about the large Kurdish population in Armenia. In terms of inspiration, this is a world away from Egoyan’s frequently rather cerebral cinema. Instead, Saleem aims north, aspiring to the low-key, deadpan miserablist humour of Finnish director Aki Kaurasmaki. The result is certainly a warm-hearted film, but to me it doesn’t equal its inspiration. It shares its leisurely pace and poker-faced comedy with Kaurismaki’s work, but the danger of working in a minor key is that of slightness and inconsequentiality. And that’s where Vodka Lemon falls down. There are certainly consolations, such as the performances and the occasional shaft of humour. Christophe Pollock’s cinematography makes the obviously bitterly cold settings strangely beautiful. And the sheer novelty of seeing a film from this part of the world makes this worth a look. The title, by the way, comes from an exchange that Nina has with a customer at her roadside liquor store. When asked why a drink is called vodka lemon when it tastes of almonds, she says: “That’s Armenia!”

Vodka Lemon arrives on DVD in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. However, the transfer is non-anamorphic, which is a mark against it for a film with this ratio. It’s certainly not a bad transfer, the film’s colour scheme being well rendered and shadow detail fine. However, it just misses the sharpness in fine detail that an anamorphic transfer might have brought.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0, which plays as Dolby Surround if you set your amp to analogue (ProLogic). It’s certainly worth doing so, as this is quite an inventive track, with much use of left, right and surround for directional effects as well as Michel Korb’s music score. Dialogue is always clear. There are twelve chapter stops. Subtitles are fixed, but unless you’re fluent in Armenian that shouldn’t be an issue. The disc is encoded for Region 2 only.

The main extra is “Vodka on Ice: Un making of de Vodka Lemon” (42:07. As that title would indicate, this is a documentary obtained from a French source: captions are in French, and clips from the film itself have the Armenian dialogue subtitled into French. All of this is then subtitled into English. It’s a useful featurette, combining film extracts, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the director, producer Fabrice Guez and others. Filmed in sequence from midwinter to spring, it seems to have been a gruelling shoot. The featurette is presented in non-anamorphic 1.78:1.

The remaining extras are the theatrical trailer (1:17) and trailers for three other Metrodome releases: The Last Victory, a particularly brief one for Lilya 4-Ever and a particularly nauseating one for Valentin.

Vodka Lemon is by no means unpleasant to watch, and fans of Kaurismaki and the curious may well want to check it out. However, it's a film that I couldn't get excited about. Metrodome's DVD would have done better with an anamorphic transfer, but it's a decent disc in other respects.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:57:28

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