Sergei Trifunovic (left) as Vanya and Peter Gevisser as Dirk in Vladan Nikolics Love, now showing at the Pioneer Theater.
Love and war, across the ocean intact
By Steven Snyder
Any movie that involves the tired cliché of a hit man going on that one last mission and dares, in a post-Pulp Fiction and Memento world, to jump back and forth through time and across narratives, better know damn well what its doing, since this is not the road less traveled.
Thankfully, until the overheating mechanics of its dense and layered plot overwhelms a more subdued story of souls at a crossroads, Vladan Nikolics Love proves it has what it takes to stand proud among the other titles of its genre.
Early on, we identify with each character more for their profession and their heritage than with their particular function as a plot device. Theres a shooter, Vanya (Sergei Trifunovic) and a doctor, Anna (Geno Lechner), who we sense early on is working with Vanya but later reappears in a relationship with a policeman, Dirk (Peter Gevisser). Vanyas last mission leads him to a drug dealer and a most unexpected reunion with Anna, whom we now realize he used to love, and sends both on the run as Dirk chases them, fearful that Vanya has abducted his girlfriend.
But to describe only the story and to detail it only in linear fashion is to miss the larger effect of Nikolics frequently poetic script and moody, evocative direction. In the films earlier segments Nikolic skillfully plays with time, introducing us to a scene first and then the actors second, often starting at the end of a sequence and then cutting back to the beginning from another perspective before arriving at the same final image.
As this world rewinds and restarts, Nikolic uses a narrator in a curious way not to set the place or the time, nor to give us unlikely insights into emotions or feelings, but to give us historical grounding. Each character represents a different nationality and plays a part in a larger story that recreates the stresses and the conflicts of the Balkans. They are not just a vessel for the story, but rounded personalities with individual histories and chronologies.
Its like the structure of Amelie, but with a more developed political backbone, and a few more fists to throw.
Each subplot, in one form or another, intersects with the notion of love as the story moves through an ambiguous slice of New York City. Some are turned into criminals out of desperation to help their loved ones. Others are punished for helping those they love. Love for some begets loneliness for others. At the storys center, Vanya and Annas love is what saves them Vanya from a life of suicidal self-disgust and Anna from a loveless relationship.
Ultimately, it is the meditative mood and tone that sets Love apart, this indescribable sensation of fate pushing these people together despite their will. Nikolic deserves much of the credit, as he skillfully connects these stories comprehensively, as does Vladimir Subotic, for his cinematography that illustrates these characters isolation and separation. Similarly, all three leads give their characters a much appreciated sense of imperfection to go hand-in-hand with their flawed quests for love. Gevissers a tough cop, but terrified of losing his girl. Trifunovic pretends to control peoples lives, but isnt even sure he deserves to go on living. Lechner, as Anna, demands Vanya pull over the car to let her out, but isnt completely sure she wants to run away.
Clarity comes quickly when lives are on the line. Thats why movies like this, bordered by life and death, are made and remade. And while most are needles iterations, Love has a few new things to say.