MODRA Director: Ingrid Veninger Starring: Hallie Switzer, Alexander Gammal Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
In a frugal future, Ingrid Veninger will be a superstar. The sometime CBC child star has made a small cottage industry out of making moving little dramas for less than the price of a used car.
This involves things like getting her children to star -- her son in the tween romance Only, and her daughter Hallie Switzer in the lovely and believable teen relationship-tale-cum-travelogue Modra.
Indeed, Modra, which opens today, takes her modus operandus to a whole new, international level. The movie -- in which a 17-year-old breaks up with her boyfriend on the eve of a trip to Slovakia to visit family, and takes her second choice (Alexander Gammal) along on a whim -- actually conscripts an entire town of Veninger's real-life relatives as its cast.
Even the soundtrack calls in a family favour, featuring Bukasovy Masiv, a band of some apparent Slovakian renown, fronted by Veninger's uncle.
The result is what every indie director strives for -- an emotionally true movie that looks like it cost about 10 times its actual budget. A natural actor, Switzer finds her comfort zone early, as a Lena, a teen with an active curiosity and no particular focus -- romance, wanderlust, family, culture. Gammal's character Leco, by contrast, has predictably misinterpreted his travel invitation as an invitation to a relationship.
The locals, real-life cousins, aunts and uncles all beautifully play their parts in this soup of adolescent emotions -- partying, teasing, flirting, fronting and generally stirring the pot between Lena and Leco with humour and the odd hint of perceived-menace that only tourists feel. (Always alienated by the language barrier, all Leco knows about Slovakia is "they have a pretty good hockey team.")
Another star is the town of Modra itself, a gritty and oddly beautiful blue-collar town near Bratislava. The residents are the kind of hardy Eastern Europeans who've seen hard times and have come through with spirit intact. There are terrific little scenes involving the old folks. And the musical interludes are fun and uplifting.
In the end, though, Modra is nothing more than a modestly shot, sweet little film that hitches its emotional wagon completely to Lena and Leco, and the believability of their awkward interaction. Hollywood could never replicate the confused attraction-and-rejection-and-attraction that characterizes this not-quite-a-love story. That two non-actors could pull off what corporate factory filmmaking could not says everything about the difference between a film and a movie.
Nothing really happens here, which precludes the project ever getting a green light in a big-time producer's office. And yet, within that nothing, everything happens.
More Movie Reviews