Life Under Strain

in 46th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

by Ninos Feneck Mikelides

The conflict between a deranged ex-convict and his playwright hostage is at the center of the powerful drama Collaborator, by first time director Martin Donovan. Martin Donovan is Robert, the playwright who arrives in L.A. from New York to visit his old mother and convince her to go to a retirement house. He suddenly becomes hostage to Gus, an ex-convict and old neighbor (David Morse) who drops in on him, while he is preparing to visit an old flame and now famous actress (Olivia Williams). In a house surrounded by cops and watched by the mothers of the two men, who sit outside commenting stupidly as if watching a television show, Robert and Gus continue discussing various unimportant subjects whilst Robert tries to convince Gus to walk out with him peacefully, not knowing that Gus has gunned down an employee whilst robbing a super market.

Donovan based his film on the play of the same title preserving its black humor, which reaches its apogee during a tete-a-tete telephone discussion of the murderer with Robert’s ex-girlfriend. Most of the film is centered on the conversations of the two men, trapped in the house, with the camera focusing on their expressions and observing their behavior, with Gus playing a cat-and-mouse game with Robert who does not seem to be aware of it. Besides the suspense built slowly and expertly around their encounter, which ends abruptly, the film manages to transform its theatrical origin into an exciting, well-paced, cinematic experience.

I would also like to mention another important film of the Competition Section, Bedouin, directed by the Russian Igor Voloshin. Its protagonist is a young, poor Ukrainian woman who travels to Russia to become a surrogate mother in order to help her young daughter, who suffers from leukemia. In order to make ends meet, she gets involved with the local mafia and, at a certain point, is forced to kill a man, to save her life and finally ends up in Jordan where she can get camel milk for her dying daughter — a remedy which she believes can cure her or at least prolong her life.

In a very tough, realistic style, the director depicts the post-communist Russian society, in images that seem to come straight out of Dostoyevsky and Gorki, where simple, poor persons, like his heroine, are forced to submerge in the lower depths of society and go through hell, so that they can finally reach a kind of salvation. The story is strongly held together by the presence of the actress Olga Simonova, who gives a harrowing, at times touching, performance.