Distinct European flavour to this week’s DVD round-up

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ID-A, movie
ID:A: Tuva Novotny gives an impressive performance in the Danish amnesiac thriller

Bankrolled by Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa Productions, amnesiac thriller ID:A (Chelsea Films) sees cult director Christian E Christiansen return to his Danish stomping ground after last year’s poorly-received US horror movie The Roommate.

A young woman (Tuva Novotny, Stoned, Eat Pray Love) wakes to find herself lying in a river in the French countryside with a recently treated scar on her stomach and no recollection of who she is or how she got there. Cryptically, next to her is a duffel bag containing two million Euros – and a gun. After seeking refuge in the attic room of a nearby village hotel, she realises that several mysterious men are trailing her. After glancing at a pamphlet and recognising the Danish language, she heads home to Denmark in search of her identity, and gravitates towards an opera singer called Just Ore, whose distinctive voice strikes a chord with her. After making contact with the crooner, she begins to piece together the fragments of her life, not realising the hidden dangers that await her…

Buoyed by an alluring central performance from Novotny, ID:A is an initially captivating piece of work, albeit one that struggles to sustain the intriguing mood as the plot starts to unravel. The sporadic action interludes are all effectively handled, and give the film a propulsive energy sometimes lacking elsewhere, but they can’t disguise the fact that the mystery at the heart of the film grows increasingly uninteresting as the film progresses.

Despite the Zentropa production credit, ID:A is sadly lacking Von Trier’s trademark warped streak, and the weirdest moments involve the inexplicable presence of an elderly transvestite who runs a refuge for battered women. Although it is a quirky idea, generally well executed, ID:A’s sluggish script detracts from Tuva Novotny’s impressive performance, and the end-product adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Sadly, and somewhat inevitably, ID:A falls well short of the standards set by its obvious influences Memento and Mulholland Drive.


Call Girl, movie
A Call Girl: an intriguing backdrop to the murky narrative

I think it’s fair to say that Slovenian dramas about the sex trade are still something of a rarity in this country, so it is interesting to see 2009’s A Call Girl (Axiom Films) earn a UK DVD distribution. The movie follows the fortunes of 23-year-old student Aleksandra (played by newcomer Nina Ivanisin), who becomes a part-time prostitute in an attempt to make ends meet while living in Ljubljana, and also allow her to experience the raw excitement of the big city. However, her precarious double life is shattered when one of her clients, a noteworthy German politician, dies of a heart attack while in her company. Pursued by both the police and a pair of sadistic pimps, Aleksandra is forced to turn to her shambolic, would-be musician father for support.

Driven by a fearless debut performance from Nina Ivanisin, A Call Girl (also known as Slovenian Girl) is a morally ambiguous, generally enthralling character study. Despite focusing on the sex trade, there is nothing erotic about A Call Girl, which explores Aleksandra’s motivations in a world where nothing can be taken for granted. As a fast-evolving country on the fringes of Europe, Slovenia offers an intriguing backdrop to the murky narrative, and its blend of the old and the new presents an apt counterpoint, considering Aleksandra is dabbling in the world’s oldest profession. Despite its low-key origins, A Call Girl deserves to tap into an appreciative art-house audience.


The Darkest Hour
The Darkest Hour: selling social networking to the Russians turns into an alien concept

The Darkest Hour (20th Century Fox) follows the exploits of software designers Sean (Emile Hirsch, Milk, Speed Racer) and Ben (Max Minghella, The Social Network) who head to Moscow where they hope to sell a new social networking concept to the Russians. When their business plans fall apart thanks to the actions of their devious Swedish partner Skyler, the duo seek solace with party-loving backpackers Anne (Rachael Taylor, See No Evil) and Natalie (Olivia Thirlby, The Wackness), before the posse are distracted by the appearance of a number of strange lights in the sky above Moscow. Fascination quickly turns to horror however, when the apparitions reveal themselves to be sinister alien forces capable of disintegrating humans on sight. In order to survive, the group are forced to try to understand their attackers, and come up with an inventive way of fighting off their mysterious advances.

After working as a production designer for the likes of David Fincher and the Coen Brothers, director Chris Gorak unleashed the memorably bleak contemporary thriller Right At Your Door in 2006, before dropping off the Hollywood grid completely. Depressingly, The Darkest Hour marks his return to filmmaking, replacing the disturbing, disquieting tone of his debut with an altogether lamer ‘teens-in-peril’ vibe. The combination of smug, blandly unlikeable protagonists and a nonsensical plot does the film few favours and the strong cast are pretty much hung out to dry. In particular Swedish actor (and future Robocop!) Joel Kinnaman – so impressive as ambiguous cop Stephen Holder in the US remake of The Killing – is saddled with a thankless role as Skyler, the least likeable of the survivors.

Russian director Timur Bekmanbetov has enjoyed a unique career to date, bursting to international prominence with the undeniably strange Night Watch and Day Watch, but not even his behind-the-scenes presence as producer can inject anything interesting into the proceedings. Indeed, the whole endeavour feels juvenile and ill-conceived, and it remains to be seen whether or not the kind of youngsters it is presumably aimed at will be remotely interested in something this half-baked. Make no mistake, The Darkest Hour is a poor film, but it is even more of a disappointment considering the director’s previous work. Awful.