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Two 17-year-olds from Toronto spend a week in rural Slovakia in the modest but affecting drama of self-discovery “Modra,” from Canadian writer-helmer Ingrid Veninger. Shot in a low-key cinema verite style, with the director’s non-pro family members in most of the roles and her husband as soundman, the pic is a prime example of heartfelt DIY filmmaking that really works. Acquired by Canadian distributor Mongrel Media during the Toronto fest, “Modra” reps quality fest fare with some potential for offshore ancillary.

After her boyfriend dumps her, baby-faced Lina (Hallie Switzer, the helmer’s daughter) impulsively invites cute classmate Leco (Alexander Gammal) to join her on a summer visit to her mother’s relatives in Modra. The welcoming extended family assumes they are girlfriend and boyfriend, and Lina doesn’t bother to set them straight.

Over the course of the week, they visit the local sights and even more of Lina’s relatives, but it soon becomes clear they have very little in common. When Lina goes off with a local boy, rudely leaving Leco in the lurch, an emotional showdown ensues.

Veninger’s naturalistic script proves poignantly alert to the nuances of teen life, perfectly capturing that confusing betwixt-and-between time that is neither childhood nor independence. With dialogue in English and Slovak, and supporting characters that seem to be portraying themselves rather than acting, this often feels like docu-fiction.

Making her solo feature-directing debut (after co-directing “Everything Is Love and Fear” and “Only”), Veninger displays a confident control of tone and pacing. She even makes the stylistic quirk of introducing some of the older Slovak characters with extreme close-up full-frame shots work as part of the visual flow.

Although Veninger planned the film in order to create something with her daughter, it is newcomer Gammal who proves to be the revelation. A charismatic, athletic screen presence with the high cheek-boned good looks of a young Keanu Reeves, his polite, alert Leco turns out to be a far more sensitive and sympathetic character than Lina.

Non-showy tech credits have a homemovie feel, while scenes with traditional music performances by popular Slovak band Bukasovy Masiv (featuring two more of Veninger’s relatives) complement John Welsman’s lightly used score.

Modra

Canada

  • Production: A Mongrel Media release of a Punk Films production with the participation of Telefilm Canada. (International sales: Punk Films, Toronto.) Produced, directed, written by Ingrid Veninger.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Ian Anderson; editor, Aren Hansen; music, John Welsman; production designer, Helen Veninger; sound (Dolby Digital), John Switzer. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 16, 2010. Running time: 80 MIN.
  • With: With: Hallie Switzer, Alexander Gammal, Cyril Dugovic, Elena Dugovicova. (English, Slovak dialogue)
  • Music By: