Continuing the themes of exile and harsh fate she explored in “The Crossing,” helmer Nora Hoppe provides an even more pessimistic view with her sophomore entry, “The End of the Sea.” That life is cruel and no one can find redemption appears to be Hoppe’s nihilistic philosophy, illustrated here by an essentially decent man trying to do the right thing for an abused woman running away from a lifetime of slavery. Shot in the multiethnic melting pot of Trieste, pic is awash in dreary monochrome tonalities and can’t escape a distancing staginess, limiting impact to indulgent fest auds.
“What stories could the sea tell” is the kickoff, too obvious an intro by half and signaling lines that often sound like the musings of a depressed teenager. Serbian fisherman Todor (Miki Manojlovic) makes money by ferrying contraband cigarettes for small-time smugglers, saving up to purchase a piece of land in Herzegovina.
He agrees to bring in a more lucrative shipment, but is taken aback when the cargo turns out to be human. The disheveled woman (Diana Dobreva) he brings home is practically feral, so wild he has to strap her down to the bed. Once she realizes he’s not one of her tormentors, she allows him to tend her wounds and they develop a bond, though communication is slow in their common language, English.
Trapped in his apartment for fear the smugglers will kidnap her, the woman is determined to continue to Paris where a mysterious tormentor resides. Todor’s sympathy builds, but he’s also feeling tremendous pressure from the traffickers, and getting her a fake passport before they’re both discovered leads to inevitable tragedy.
To further emphasize the dismal state of the world, background radio news broadcasts about war and mutilation reinforce (none too subtly) the underlying themes.Frustratingly, Hoppe denies the woman a past, and withholds her name, Nilofar, until the very end. A Persian poem she keeps sewn into her dress is all we learn of her history aside from a statement that she’s been running since the age of seven. By withholding this information, Hoppe reduces her to a sort of gypsy wildcat, and then later a mere generic stand-in for all white slaves.
Manojlovic (“Underground”) fares better with his character, but like everyone else he practically disappears into the cold blue/battleship-gray palette that becomes the most inescapable element of the film. Not just walls and fabrics but also clothing seem to have been dunked in the same paint can, resulting in monotonous visuals that are supposed to reflect the sea metaphors but instead merely drown out the characters.