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Import/Export
UKScreen Rating:

Import/Export – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

As the title suggests, this film is about things entering and leaving the country – or more specifically, a woman moving from Ukraine to Austria and a man travelling the other way.
A Ukranian nurse, Olga (Rak), who’s struggling, in the bitter-cold winter, to make ends meet, turns first to the online sex trade before heading abroad to try to earn more money – in Austria, she gets a job in a hospital, but only as a cleaner.
An out of work Austrian security guard, Pauli (Hoffman) takes a job, delivering arcade games to Ukraine.
The film follows both characters as they travel far from home, in their attempt to find some satisfaction.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

If Seidl’s intention was to show us that pretty much everything, everyone and everywhere in eastern Europe is – or at least whenever this was set, used to be – tremendously bleak, cold, icy grey and miserable, he’s succeeded.
If the idea is to convince us that everyone always thinks “the grass is always greener on the other side,” then it ticks that box too.
The cinematography – clinical in the hospitals and chaotic in the strip clubs – perfectly evokes the right mood, supported by believable performances, laden with pathos, from the leads. Many of the supporting roles are played by unprofessional, which in some cases adds to the discomfort you feel watching it.
In Olga’s case, every time she tries to better her situation, she’s knocked back, often by people far less qualified than she is.
And Pauli’s adventure is largely thrown off-course at every turn by his misogynistic step-dad, who’s more interested in watching young girls dance naked than he is on getting the arcade games delivered on time.
But the structure and the general plot – or plots – aren’t so convincing.
Perhaps tainted by too many Hollywood films, viewers might feel that the two main characters should meet midway – or at least the storylines should cross over somehow.
But as they are – two completely disjointed short films about two unrelated people, whose only connections are that the switch countries and aren’t particularly happy – either where they start off or where they finish – you kind of wonder what the point of the whole exercise is.
Intercutting two separate short films doesn’t make them one coherent film – they’re completely different stories in which different things happen to different people with different hopes and dreams. All that’s consistent is the idea of people not being happy with their lot, which is hardly an original concept – especially in these grim, eastern European art-house films.
You can see that they both live in grim cities, they both have aspirations, they both set off to try to achieve their aspirations and they each have about as much success as the other in attaining their goals.
But there’s no sense of continuity – no sense that this is a whole – no single message or theme that develops in any rounded sense.
In her case, you could argue that there’s a constant theme of rejection, xenophobia and prejudice – but none of these applies to him.
Ultimately, it’s a powerful depiction of how difficult live must have been, wherever you were unlucky enough to be born in that part of the world at that time, but you’re left with the futile sense that whatever you try to do to escape, you can’t – you’re trapped in one hell-hole, if not in another.
It’s a stark, miserable depiction of a stark, miserable existence. Powerful, but emotionally draining, but not as profound as it things it is, and with nothing to lift the spirits.

opens nationwide 3rd October 2008

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