Last Resort Review

It was easy to miss the cinema release of Last Resort earlier this year amid another wave of UK gangster films – but anyone fortunate enough to be near a cinema that is sympathetic towards smaller independent films might have caught one of the best British films of recent years.

Not that this is really a small independent film. Financed by the BBC – the back of the DVD case states that this is “A BBC Films/BBC Documentaries Production” - it bears all the hallmarks of a BBC Drama production and I mean that as a compliment. The film has a strong screenplay (written by the director and Rowan Joffe) with characters and dialogue that ring true and marvellous authentic performances from all the members of the cast.

Tanya (Dina Korzun) arrives at Gatwick airport with her son 10 year old son, Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov) – leaving Russia to marry her English fiancé. When he doesn’t appear at the airport to meet her, Tanya finds herself up against Immigration and claims political asylum to avoid deportation. She and her son are forced to remain in Stonehaven (the film is filmed on location in a bleak-looking Margate) and given accommodation and food vouchers while they wait for their application to be processed – a wait that could take up to 18 months. In order to survive in the meantime, Tanya tries to find work, becomes involved with an Internet porn site and meets Alfie, a worker in an amusement arcade, who tries to help her survive the situation she finds herself in.

There are some nice touches in the film – the opening shot on the airport transit shuttle, Tanya’s brush with officialdom at the airport. Anne Widdecome would also approve of the prison camp environment with security cameras that keeps immigrants locked away from the British public and a closed-down train-station that prevents anyone from leaving. But the film doesn’t appear to be trying to make any political points. Surprisingly, it is a gently romantic film and the characters are engaging and believable. It turns out that Alfie has a violent past, but it is to the credit of the film and Paddy Considine’s subtle and understated performance, that he doesn’t come across as a stereotypical thug. Violence and exploitation lie below the surface, seen from a distance, but are ever present in this environment.

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s background is in documentary film and Last Resort is shot documentary style in Super-16, so the images are dark, grim and gritty. It would be a mistake however to think that jerky, hand-held camera movement and use of zooms and close-ups are used to disguise a lack of technique. The close-up shots allow the actors to express much more than is spoken and not one of them can be faulted for their performance. The photography is superb and the director of photography, Ryszard Lenczewski, captures the bleak prison-like environment like an Edward Hopper of English sea-side resorts.

The transfer is as good as you would expect from an Artificial Eye release. Because of the film stock used, it is of course quite grainy in places, but this is appropriate for the gritty documentary style of the film. It is presented in a 1:85:1 anamorphic transfer and there are no noticeable problems with the print. Sound is the standard Dolby Digital 2.0, but there is nothing on the soundtrack that would benefit from surround sound. There are some obligatory subtitles when the characters speak in Russian, but the majority of the dialogue is in English.

Extras are disappointing. Artificial Eye have been making more of an effort recently with useful and relevant extras, especially on English-language releases, but all we have here is a very grainy trailer and filmographies of the cast and directors.

Last Resort is not the kind of film to cause a stir or pack out the multiplexes, but it has quietly gained a number of awards in foreign film festivals and is a breath of fresh air in a rather stagnant British film industry.

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