Thursday, 14 July 2016

Last Resort (2000)

Not a film that anyone who voted for Brexit is likely to want to to watch or recommend, Pawel Pavilowski's 2000 film Last Resort is nevertheless an extremely timely watch as we witness hate crime increasing and the continuing extremely disproportionate amount of negative prejudiced comment from the right-wing media and the professional bigots of UKIP and the Conservative party - the latter who seem to be achieving increasing positions of power since Empress Palpatine ascended to the throne yesterday. In the midst of this dangerous rift, Last Resort gives a human face to the issue of immigration.

Last Resort tells the story of Russian refugee Tanya, and her son Artyom (compellingly performed by Dina Korzun and Artyom Strelnikov respectively) who arrive at Heathrow where Tanya expects to be met by her fiance Mark. However, it quickly becomes clear that Mark has had second thoughts. Stood up but determined to seek Mark out, Tanya has no option but to claim asylum to bide herself some time, whereupon she and her son are transferred to a holding bay in  Stonehaven, a fictional decaying seaside resort in the South East of England (in reality Margate, which is ironically in the constituency of South Thanet, Nigel Farage's political stomping ground) There they make many failed attempts to head for London to find Mark and come to rely on local amusement arcade manager Alfie (Paddy Considine) for help in navigating the peculiarities of the strange new country they find themselves in, as well as the vagaries and hardships of their asylum seeker status; a life of phone cards, food vouchers and regimented, virtually incarcerated living in a drab high-rise flat. Gradually, a mutual attraction begins to blossom between the pair but, with money becoming increasingly short and with increasing desperation regarding her situation, Tanya takes up the offer of local internet pornographer Les (played by real-life pornographic film-maker Lindsay Honey, aka Steve Perry, aka 'Ben Dover') in a desperate bid to financially support herself.

Made by Pawel Pavilowski, a Polish born, British based filmmaker and proof that immigrants make a positive contribution to our culture (so take that Farage et al!), Last Resort is not one to shy away from the issue of immigration but, treated with the upmost sympathy, it tackles the prejudices of those who would use the issue for political gain. Asylum seekers aren't living in the lap of luxury in plush residences with the top tier of benefits available to them, they live in the tower blocks long abandoned by everyone bar the most disadvantaged and desperate and make do with the vouchers for everything in a climate of extreme exploitation and a bleak limbo, as their cases are waiting to be heard. They cannot work legally, as they have no work permits. Therefore money is extremely hard to come by. To make ends meet, they must break the law and take the most debasing employment in an unofficial, invisible capacity, allowing their 'employers' to treat them as poorly as they can. This is effectively represented by the character of Les, who prowls the periphery of the holding bay, preying on the most desperate to enter the sex trade. Pawlikowski shows us how easy it is for someone like Tanya, a normally respectable and professional young woman in her homeland, to go down that ugly and exploitative path - though he perhaps thankfully spares us the more gruesome details of that journey.

Last Resort may be a socially aware film and a political statement, but it is actually constructed in a lyrical and often life-affirming manner despite the raw, grim situation Tanya and Artyom find themselves in. The central political message of the film never feels forced as the faltering, hesitant steps of courtship between Alfie and Tanya, and his keen and heartfelt surrogate fatherhood of Artyom shines through the gloom. The main focus of Last Resort isn't actually asylum seeking and immigration; its the positive message of how different cultures can rub along. As such it is the ultimate antidote of everything we see, hear and read in this country; a touching, humanist depiction of a contentious issue, which reminds us that people are people.

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