Tanya is a beautiful, passionate and naive woman who's made some stupid decisions in the name of love. Alfie doesn't know much about love, but he's familiar with stupid decisions; his last one landed him in jail. And he's learning about passion, as he's developing one for Tanya.
These two may sound made for each other, but that would be too easy. In Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski's sublime "Last Resort," those similarities that would normally draw them together may doom their relationship and prolong the unhappiness neither one deserves.
Tanya (movingly played by Russian actress Dina Korzun) has spent much of her young life going from relationship to relationship; already, she's been married twice and has a 10-year-old child. In her latest ill-fated move, she and her son, Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov), have flown to England from their native Russia with only $85 to start a new life with her fiance, Mark.
When Mark fails to show at the airport, a desperate Tanya claims she and her son require political asylum. Mother and son end up in Stonehaven, a fenced-in, decaying seaside resort town used as a gigantic holding cell for foreigners seeking British citizenship.
When she realizes her mistake, Tanya tries to return home - only to discover she's a virtual prisoner, stuck in this concrete hell until she can pay her way back to Russia or until all the necessary paperwork finds its way through the British bureaucracy. The latter could take up to 10 months.
Her efforts to get out only make matters worse. An escape attempt results in a warning that the next time, she'll end up in jail. Then, she tries to raise the money for plane tickets by selling her services to an Internet pornographer (played by real-life British porn king Lindsay Honey); that desperate measure results in her son's scorn.
Tanya doesn't realize that happiness is only a few yards from her doorstep, in the person of Alfie (a restrained and totally convincing Paddy Considine), who runs the local arcade. He's taken a liking to her and Atriom; unfortunately, Tanya seems clueless how to handle someone who wants only to love her, not use her.
Tanya and Alfie's relationship grows slowly, and, thanks to the wonderful performances from both Korzun and Considine, there isn't a forced or dishonest moment on-screen. Pawlikowski shoots much of the movie with hand-held cameras and overexposes the film, giving "Last Resort" a documentary feel that only heightens moviegoers' identification with (and fear for) the unhappy couple.
Starring Dina Korzun and Paddy Considine
Written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Released by Shooting Gallery
Running time 76 minutes
Unrated (Language, sexual situations) In English and Russian with English subtitles
Sun score: *** 1/2