'Human Zoo'

Model-turned-actor/director Rie Rasmussen attempts to extend her skill set with her feature debut.

Danish model-turned-thesp/helmer Rie Rasmussen (best known as the co-star of Luc Besson’s “Angel-A”) attempts to extend her skill set by producing, writing, directing, editing and starring in her feature debut, “Human Zoo.” Result does not cover her in glory. Flashback-threaded tale of a half-Serbian, half-Albanian immigrant living in Gaul is an incoherent, mostly poorly acted muddle that doesn’t even look very good, despite the work of normally ace lenser Thierry Arbogast. As with real zoos, watching this will make many feel sorry for those locked up behind the screen’s “bars,” but auds not fluent in English may be more forgiving.

Contempo framing of the story set in Marseilles introduces protagonist Adria Shala (Rasmussen)¸ an illegal immigrant from Kosovo with a painful past. As Adria falls in love with American slacker Shawn Reagan (newcomer Nick Corey), pic introduces cold-paletted flashbacks to her time in the former Yugoslavia, some 10 years ago, during the Kosovo conflict.

Back then, Adria was nearly raped by a Serbian commander (Branislav Lecic) but saved just in the nick of time by Serbian conscript Srdjan Vasiljevic (Nikola Djuricko). Srdjan deserts with Adria in tow, and the two settle in Belgrade, where charismatic but ruthless Srdjan resumes his gangster career.

The Belgrade-set section features almost entirely Serbian dialogue, allowing thesp Djuricko to flourish — he’s the pic’s best asset by a country mile. (Script gets around to Rasmussen’s obvious lack of skill with the language by making her character a taciturn Albanian speaker, who’s too traumatized to say much.)

However, the France-set section is mostly in English, supposedly so Corey’s character, Shawn, will understand what’s being said, but perhaps really to give the pic potential legs Stateside. Unfortunately, this strategy serves only to highlight the dialogue’s clunky cheesiness, and make Rasmussen and Corey’s shaky thesping look even worse.

Even eminent Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (“The Visitor”), playing a saintly Arab neighbor who befriends Adria, looks embarrassed and awkward here. It doesn’t help that the subplot about the abduction of a Vietnamese girl is confusing, while mumbled lines and poor sound (at the screening caught) make it even harder to follow the action.

Rasmussen shows moderate skill as a helmer only in the scenes featuring graphic sex and violence, which at least have a sort of visceral immediacy. Elsewhere, her lack of skill is painfully apparent, particularly in the editing department. Given the pic’s obviously substantial budget, which stretched to extensive location use, one has to wonder why Rasmussen took on this job as well.

Human Zoo

France

Production

A Luc Besson presentation of a Europa Corp. production. (International sales: Europa Corp., Paris.) Produced by Rie Rasmussen. Executive producer, Didier Hoarau. Directed, written, edited by Rie Rasmussen.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Thierry Arbogast; music, Chris Marshall; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; art director, Bujar Mucha; costume designer, Joanna Georges Rossi; sound (Dolby Digital), Bastien Guille; sound editors, Guillaume Bouchateau, Francois Fayard. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 5, 2009. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Rie Rasmussen, Nikola Djuricko, Nick Corey, Vojin Cetkovic, Hiam Abbass, Said Amadis, Branislav Lecic, Ivan Jevtovic, Jean-Pierre Sanchez, Cyril Raffaelli, Daphne Hacquart, Jean-Luc Boucherot, Vladimir Posavec, Branislav Tomasevic, Dany Benedito. (English, Serbian, French, Arabic dialogue)

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