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Distant Lights

Reviewed By Greg Muskewitz
Posted 02/03/04 11:52:45

"Far away, so close."
5 stars (Awesome)

Like the light at the end of the tunnel, the various assembled plotlines of characters are all in search of that distant glint in hopes of survival.

Hans-Christian Schmid’s film is filled to the brim with loosely disassociated disparate types that see an eventual tightening to the overlap of storylines. A group of Ukrainian émigrés headed for Berlin are duped and dumped in Poland, leaving the possibility of a dash over the border scant; a group of orphaned teens work by smuggling cigarettes for a man who provides them with shelter and food; an unemployed woman is hired by a struggling mattress salesman; his previous employee, and her taxi-driving husband, race against the clock and poverty to purchase a first communion dress for their daughter. From the outset, Schmid goes to great lengths for a stab at realism (not without the use of drained and vérité-style DV), gradually bringing you down to the ranks of his characters. It is, of course, broken up into a revolving set of storylines, first introducing you to their plights, then returning to repeat the process of getting to know them — palatable or not — and maybe gaining clearer insights into their own motivations. Beyond the theme of survival, they all share a common bond of living in slight, which none of them feel particularly warranted. Schmid remains unbiased towards his characters even after various actions easily alienate their earlier image, but mostly because their acts are done out of desperation, resourceful or not. Most of the characters are non-Germans, all having inevitably immigrated at some point, and there is a strong recollection of Dirty Pretty Things in the dealing of their straits, in that mode of fortitude, with the strongest separation between the two being that the characters in Distant Lights resort to taking advantage of their situations for the betterment of themselves. In each link, there are people who want to help them, people who offer some form of assistance, only for the inch of space they give to be taken for a mile. And whether the initial actions are altruistic or not, there are delineations of how far they will go, yet the robbery of their aid is almost forgivable inasmuch as their rationale to subsist outlasts their despairing manipulation. (Certain revenges included.) At no time is there anything else on display other than the gritty presentation of being human, in all of its darkness, its bleakness, its discontent, its disappointment, and the eventual resentment of their current place, long ago forgetting what it took to get where they are. With Ivan Shvedoff, Sergei Frolov, Anna Yanovskaya, Alice Dwyer, Martin Kiefer, Tom Jahn, Devid Striesow, Claudia Geisler, Julia Krynke, Herbert Knaup, Sebastian Urzendowsky, and Janek Rieke.

[Masterpiece.]

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