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The Island

The multiple personalities that helmer Kamen Kalev believes co-exist within us all find their match in the oddly schizophrenic storytelling of "The Island."

The multiple personalities that helmer Kamen Kalev believes coexist within us all find their match in the oddly schizophrenic storytelling of “The Island.” The interesting (if not terribly original) premise of a couple undergoing character changes while vacationing on a Bulgarian island makes a surprising shift in its third act into something definitely unique, but not necessarily in a good way. Though lensing appeals, the pic can’t make its silly premise seem viable, especially when poor dialogue and unbelievable characterization stymie involvement. “The Island” is destined to be stranded in diffuse festival waters, with only rare shore excursions.

Over-signaling what’s to come, Kalev opens with Daneel (Danish thesp Thure Lindhardt) consulting a fortuneteller (an overacted cameo from cult Chilean helmer Alejandro Jodorowsky) who tells him to “jump into the emptiness.” But Daneel is the controlling, not the jumping, type. Sophie (Laetitia Casta), his Parisian g.f. for four years, decides he needs loosening up, and books them a surprise vacation in Bulgaria. He’s not happy about the destination, and once there, he reveals he actually is Bulgarian (has she never looked at his passport?).

With the beach not inspiring either of them, they head to an underpopulated island where Daneel spent time in an orphanage. There he begins to lose his prickliness and starts to relax, though he becomes obsessed with a woman (Boyka Velkova) he thinks is his biological mother. Sophie is creeped out by the island’s air of suppressed mystery and odd inhabitants; Daneel ignores her pleas to leave until she finally gets a boat out on her own.

He plans to follow, but, in a twist that comes straight out of left field and then takes over the game, gets sidetracked by a “Big Brother” casting call in Sofia, where he pretends to be mentally handicapped and enters the house as one of the contestants. Daneel’s rapid-fire personality changes presumably are meant to convey the idea that everyone has different people inside and the only way to liberate the whole is to get in touch with them all — it’s a riff on those stories about successful businessmen giving it all up and buying an ostrich farm, though generally those tales had better-formed characters.

This is a disappointment, considering how sharply Kalev delineated the roles in his debut, “Eastern Plays,” which boasted true-to-life dialogue that’s largely lacking here. Perhaps the absurdist twists would have worked if auds could believe in the relationship between Daneel and Sophie, but Daneel’s combativeness and general air of impenetrability, as well as his bizarrely kept birth secret, make it impossible to buy these two as a close and loving couple. And while “The Island” has a fortunate sense of humor, it’s not enough to overcome a banal message.

Daneel and Sophie largely communicate in English, and while both Lindhardt and Casta speak with clear accents, their conversations have an unnatural hesitation that further divides them, perhaps intentionally. Visuals are the pic’s strong suit, carefully calibrated in color tones and editing to reflect first the sense of staid normality, followed by a cooler, unsettling energy, which then moves to a more reality-based atmosphere.

The Island


  • Production: A Waterfront Films presentation of a Waterfront Films, Art Eternal, Chimney Pot, Film i Vast, Bulgarian National Television production. (International sales: Le Pacte, Paris.) Produced by Kamen Kalev. Co-producers, Anguel Christanov, Thomas Eskilsson, Fredrik Zander. Executive producers, Elitza Katzarska, Stela Pavlova. Directed, written by Kamen Kalev.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Julian Atanassov; editors, Asa Mossberg, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, Kalev; music, Jean-Paul Wall; production designer, Sebastian Orgambide; costume designer, Stanislava Yanakieva; sound (Dolby SRD), Momchil Bozhkov; assistant director, Krasimir Hazarbasanov. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 16, 2011. Running time: 109 MIN.
  • With: With: Thure Lindhardt, Laetitia Casta, Boyka Velkova, Russi Chanev, Mihail Mutafov, Luben Silov-Son, Slav Tanev, Alejandro Jodorowsky. (English, Bulgarian, French dialogue)