24 January 2002 | bob the moo
Slow, thoughtful, non-judgemental character piece.
A young Russian woman Tanya and her son arrive in England and claim political asylum in order to be allowed to stay. They are then put in a holding area in a sea-side town in Northern England and told they must wait for 12-16 months while their claims are processed. They find their situation and the town to be equally bleak and look for a way out. Two options present themselves - the kindness of arcade owner Alfie and the well-paying exploitation of pornographer Les.
This is a little gem of a film - very short but strong in almost every other area. The plot is not a typical life of an asylum seeker in the UK but it allows us to see life from their point of view. This doesn't mean that it's all bleak - Tanya sees humanity, exploitation, hate and indifference (the officers just doing their job who can't look into everyone's needs). The story is quite straightforward and at times doesn't seem to be going anywhere - the conclusion is pretty open, it's clever but it isn't satisfying for those wanting an end to the story. It's more a character piece that also looks at the UK's asylum policy. However it doesn't judge anyone or anything - it is wonderful in the way it simply presents the story with little sentiment or emotion and without pointing fingers at anyone or any situation. It could have easily been very preachy.
The cast are great. Korzun is a great actress and brings her character's vulnerability through. Strelnikov is also good as her son although doesn't have as much to do. Considine is excellent as Alfie - at first his character just seems to be a wide-boy type, saying "man" every few words and boasting about his fights and stuff, but his character is deeply written and is well brought out. The surprise performance for me was the role of Les, the internet pornographer who offers good money to Tanya for some strip work. It was a surprise because he was played by real life pornographer Steve Perry (his porn name is Ben Dover - quite famous in the UK) - although here he is credited as "Lindsey Honey", a made-up name. The fact that he essentially plays himself (just in terms of his job) but allows himself to be judged by the audience makes it an excellent, brave performance and he deserves recognition for it.
The film's weaknesses are minor but the fact that it is so bleak may be a turn off for those not willing to look past the surface. Also it moves quite slow and may frustrate at times. The way the scenes fade to black give it a bad TV feel - it feels like it was made to fade out to commercial breaks. Also the way that the seaside town is portrayed as "big brother" style town where the authorities see and know everything is at times a little hard to swallow.
Overall it is a great character piece that also gives a view of the UK from an foreigners point of view. It's slow, thoughtful and non-judgemental.