Starting out like a gritty docudrama and slowly morphing into a shy love story, “Last Resort” manages the difficult task of being unsentimental but touching. Made for the BBC’s specialized second channel, this little story about a Russian woman and her young son who are befriended by an amusement arcade manager while being held by British immigration authorities will fit nicely into festival and small-screen slots.
It’s the second co-production, following Dominic Savage’s “Nice Girl,” between the BBC’s film and docu units. Helmer Paul Pawlikowski, whose background lies in the latter, directs with a much surer hand than on his first feature, the Moscow-set “The Stringer,” that played the Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 1998.
Though “Resort” is a much smaller picture, it’s more comfortable in its own skin and demonstrates that the Brit realist-drama tradition still has some life in its old bones.
Mixing handheld camerawork with moments of repose, pic has an immediate Ken Loachlike feel as Tanya (Dina Korzun, from “The Land of the Deaf”) and her son Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov), 10, are questioned at a British airport’s passport control. Tanya first says they’re coming on holiday, then that her English fiance is meeting them, and finally, in a panic to stay, asks for political asylum.
Last request automatically mandates their transfer to an immigrants’ center in a dreary coastal town, where they’re given a small apartment and meal coupons but kept under surveillance by cameras. Processing her application for p.a. will take 12-16 months.
In a conversation never shown (typical of the film’s economy), the man Dina came to marry dumps her over the phone. The only friendly face in town is Alfie (Paddy Considine), who runs an arcade. Avoiding the normal cliches, the script gradually sketches the growing trust of Dina and her streetwise son in the helpful, no-nonsense Alfie, while Dina flirts with a high-paying job making sexy videos for a local Internet porn king, Les (Lindsey Honey).
Even when she withdraws her request for asylum and asks to be sent home, Dina is told that will take three to six months to process. Feeling trapped in a no man’s land among stateless immigrants, she has to decide how far to go with Alfie.
Two adult leads, with Considine in a very different role from his weirdo in “A Room for Romeo Brass,” have a genuine chemistry as two lost souls trying to make new starts in life. (She’s already been through two marriages, and he’s spent time in jail for assault.)
Korzun is especially good as a young woman whose heart too often rules her head, and Strelnikov, initially unsympathetic as a cocky Moscow kid, grows in his bonding scenes with Considine. Honey is right on the money as the smooth-talking, all-business pornographer.
Film’s warmth comes from its characters rather than the setting, a bleak location on England’s southern coast lensed with a kind of wintry po-etry by Ryszard Lenczewski. Editing throughout is tight as a drum.