An engrossing adventure about escape from the war hells of Bosnia devolves into a sleazy drama on the nasty streets of the Windy City in “Lana’s Rain.” Although tyro editor-writer-director Michael S. Ojeda’s American indie pic is marbled with vivid authenticity — from locales in Croatia and Chicago’s scuzziest corners to the casting of East Euro actors in full command of the plentiful Serbo-Croatian dialogue — it ends up a grinding, ludicrous depiction of a thuggish Bosnian’s abuse of his sister. In limited rollout release, starting in Chicago in February and Los Angeles in April, pic will quickly flee to ancillary obscurity.
After a graphic details the 1990s flight of innocents and war criminals alike from the Balkans to the West, pic’s rough first minutes plunge viewers into the Bosnian war’s nasty muck. Gangster-warlord Celo (Alex Diatchenco) hunts for fellow gangster Darko (Nickolai Stoilov) who betrayed him. Celo starts by putting a bullet through the head of the nurse who approved Darko’s (unfinished) plastic surgery to disguise his identity.
Darko learns his sister Lana is trying to find him, and they reunite in a dynamic scene in a bombed-out church, with Darko laying out his plans for her to join him on a German cargo ship headed for the States.
With more than $20,000 stashed away in their luggage, Lana and Darko make the grueling journey, but when they arrive in Chicago, she looks a lot worse for wear than Darko does. Lana has apparently allowed their precious luggage to be stolen, and Darko asks her if she would “sell her soul” to make money.
Pic’s stubborn focus on the progressively sleaze-ball life of the siblings — he functions as her john, she as his whore, later moving up the American Dream ladder to an “escort” service — delivers few dividends and detracts from the outside forces bearing down on Darko. Not only is Celo out to get him, but a former NATO general (David Darlow) is hired by the World Court at the Hague to hunt down and arrest Darko for war crimes.
Devices used to bringing these facts to Lana’s and Darko’s attention are clunky and contrived in the extreme, foreshadowing a disastrously conceived third act.
Grafted on to all of this is a half-baked romance between Lana and a sculptor named Julian (Luoyong Wang). Their passions finally pour out in a sequence that could have been terrifically emotional but plays with a thud.
Central to pic’s dilemma is Ojeda’s incomplete conception of the Lana character, both as to who she really is and what she genuinely wants. As the center of attention, she remains curiously opaque throughout, and her eventual mastery of English proves no help. What can be felt from Lana is almost entirely due to Orlenko’s gutsy portrayal, while Stoilov takes Darko’s name more than a bit too literally. Brother abuse of a sister is bad enough to watch, but the brutal torture of Lana by an employee of the World Court is amazingly misjudged.
Ojeda, though, shows a real feel for his hometown’s back streets, greatly assisted by lenser Gennadi Balitski.