Breaking out of asylum

Issue 

Picture

Last resort
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
With Dina Korzun, Artiom Strelnikov and Paddy Considine
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival

REVIEWED BY SARAH STEPHEN

Last resort is a unique insight into the cold, bleak reality of seeking asylum in Britain, but with an unusual twist.

Tanya, played by Dina Korzun, is a naive young Russian woman with a streetwise 10-year-old son, Artiom (played by Artiom Strelnikov). She arrives at Heathrow airport to meet her fiance, but he doesn't arrive to pick her up. In a panic, she requests political asylum, in order to find out what has become of her fiance.

Tanya and her son are flanked by guard dogs, marched to police cars and taken to the dreary seaside town of Stonehaven, where thousands of asylum seekers live waiting for the outcome of their applications.

Tanya is notified that her application could take up to 12 months to be processed.

Living in a tall, grey apartment block, the residents of the area are confined to a compound which is ringed with barbed wire and patrolled by guards and dogs. I was struck by the parallels with detention in Australia.

Large groups of sad, unshaven men, Kurds and Afghans, wandered aimlessly all day, lining up waiting to make calls at the only public phone box, and observed by closed circuit TV cameras wherever they go.

Artiom plays in an abandoned amusement park, where a sign "Dreamland welcomes you" mocks their drab reality.

Their apartment room has wallpaper with a huge tropical palm tree emblazoned on it, a pathetic attempt to compensate for the existence they find themselves trapped in.

Alfie, played by Paddy Considine, is the manager of an amusement arcade by day, and a bingo master at night. He befriends Tanya and her son.

Tanya exudes a certain vulnerability, and for a while I was left wondering whether Alfie is going to take advantage of this. He buys her presents for the flat, brings around take-away Indian for dinner, and invites himself in to watch TV.

But Alfie is a kind-hearted, working-class man. He offers Tanya a welcome friendship, and ultimately helps her to escape the compound so she can return to Russia.

The film is directed by Pawel Pawlikowsky, a Pole who came to England with his mother and sister when he was in his teens. He was prompted to make a film which explored the issue of asylum seekers in England, but from a more unique and unconventional angle.

The town of Margate, which is given the name Stonehaven in the film, has a total population of just 45,000. On top of that 3000 asylum seekers are herded into a fortressed area on its margins.

The film combines documentary-style realism with a strong human warmth, and I left the theatre feeling a mixture of despair and disgust at the misery and hopelessness faced by people seeking asylum in Britain, combined with a moving appreciation for the refreshingly un-cliched and down-to-earth romantic friendship which develops between Tanya and Alfie.