QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Photographer Ella (Nini Nebieridze) and her girlfriend Clara (Elensio aka Elene Makharashvili), Georgians resident in LA, are holidaying on a Greek island. On the same island, three Albanian youths – two brothers, the older Altin (Jurgen Marku) and the younger Eddy (Juxhin Plovishti), and their cocksure friend Veton (Silvio Goskova) – hang around in the hope of running into rich Western tourists they can fleece. Certainly, when a rich English couple drive up in a nice car and ask the where the nearest pharmacy is (the three don’t speak English), it looks like the three are going to do something awful to them. But then, the man sensibly drives off. The audience is left with a sense of dread.
The three Albanian men have just been turned away from a restaurant when the two LA girls enter, hang out, and learn from friendly locals where they can rent a 50cc Vesper (no licence needed). The next day, while the local cop (Makis Papadimitriou from Flux Gourmet, Peter Strickland, 2022) is harassing Veton into giving him a blow job, the two women are lounging on a deserted beach and decide to check out the isolated brutalist building on the other side of the bay. They arrive at what turns out to be a long-abandoned hotel and explore inside, with Ella using her Hasselblad to take pictures of Clara until the latter begs her to stop. They fool around. And then, in an instant, everything changes…
At this point, it’s unclear what the proceedings are getting into. The film masterfully sets up a series of characters, but it’s not initially obvious exactly where it is going with them. There are more characters on the fringes relating to the employment of Albanians as casual building labour, and they are important to the plot and contribute to a major theme in the film without ever leaving those fringes. This, after all, directed by a top Hollywood cinematographer and his work as such includes independent productions Poison Ivy (1992) and Unhook The Stars (1996), and bigger budget Studio fare like Walk The Line (2005) and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023). Given that its title is Light Falls and one of its protagonists a photographer, it could easily have been an arthouse movie.
In fact, it turns out that where this is headed is a nightmarish thriller, a taut exercise in captor and captive dynamics, a cat and mouse pursuit with a dash of the confined space survival thriller (think: 127 Hours) thrown in for good measure. There’s a rape scene in which Veton commits the offence and Eddy, insecure and out of his depth, fails to stop him. There are bloody acts of violence. In both cases, Papamichael’s camera doesn’t dwell on the graphic sexual or violence details, keeping much of the more graphic, dirty imagery off-screen. With Hitchcockian rigour, he shows the audience what it needs to see for the narrative to work, and no more. The same goes for the policeman’s blow job early on.
The policeman eventually gets a call from the mother of one of the girls, who is concerned that she hasn’t heard from her daughter for several hours. He tells her not to worry as this island is a peaceful place, that nothing bad ever happens here, but it nevertheless prompts him to undertake an investigation. He will later discover the 50cc bike hired by the girls thrown off the side of a coastal road with an empty petrol tank, not to mention a stolen car. He (obviously) doesn’t mention his own harassing of migrants for sexual favours. All these things indicate that the island is not as carefree as he suggests.
It would be far too easy to suggest that all migrants are bad (as much of today’s indefensible right wing rhetoric would have us believe). Vetun is someone who makes spur of the moment decisions, some of them bad ones liable to get him into trouble with the law. The cop senses this about him, but then allows his own prejudice against Albanians and / or migrants to build this into something worse than it is in his mind, and perpetrates an act of abuse upon him which is hardly going to turn Vetun into a better person or improve the situation in the long run. The three Albanians are hampered by the fact they don’t speak English and their fear, probably justified, that the local cop is unlikely to reasonably look at their side and give them the benefit of the doubt in any incident, even if they are innocent.
The two women, by way of contrast, at least until everything suddenly goes wrong, live in a world where they are insulated from such concerns. They are privileged, even if they’re completely unaware of it. And if you peel off the surface of an expertly wrought, edge of the seat thriller, that’s what this is about: the tension between an underclass of displaced migrants who have genuine grievances about their situation on the one hand, and locals and tourists who have it all on the other.
Light Falls just premiered at the Critics’ Picks Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival