Star-crossed lovers and cultural barriers are the subjects of Gregor Nicholas
' debut feature, which tells the story of a problematic love affair between a beautiful Croatian emigre (Aleksandra Vujcic
) and the young Maori (Julian Arahanga
) who awakens her desire and the ire of her authoritarian father (Rade Serbedzija).
The main selling points in this Sony Pictures Classics release are the sultry presence of newcomer Vujcic, the male actors' associations with art house hits "Once Were Warriors" and "Before the Rain", and the film's NC-17 rating, which the press notes helpfully explain was precipitated by an "innocent scene of joyous sex."
Nina, who fled war-torn Croatia to settle with her large family in New Zealand, becomes attracted to Eddie, the handsome cook in the restaurant in which she works. Although this is clearly a dangerous avenue to pursue - her father is the type who trashes the cars of his daughters' potential suitors - the couple are soon involved in a passionate affair, which they unfortunately take few pains to hide. The father becomes increasingly unhinged, ultimately taking to literally barricading Nina in her bedroom.
When Eddie attempts to rescue her, it results in a brutally violent encounter between him, the father and one of Nina's overprotective male relatives.
Director Nicholas tells the story with the proper amount of controlled tension and a strong sense of atmosphere, and has elicited strong performances from the entire cast.
However, this is awfully familiar material despite the exoticism of the setting and the nationalities involved. A subplot involving a young Chinese couple who want to get married adds little to the story, although it does provide for some touching and humorous moments.
Vujcic, making her screen debut, has the kind of exotic beauty that the camera loves, and she more than holds her own in the presence of such experienced co-stars as Serbedzija ("Before the Rain", "The Saint"). As her lover, the tattooed Arahanga is as appealing here as he was menacing in "Once Were Warriors".
Sony Pictures Classics
Director Gregor Nicholas
Screenplay Gregor Nicholas
, Johanna Pigott
Producer Robin Scholes
Executive producer Timothy White
Cinematographer John Toon
Editor David Coulson
Music Murray Grindlay
, Murray McNabb
Ivan Rade Serbedzija
Nina Aleksandra Vujcic
Eddie Julian Arahanga
Darko Marton Csokas
Mira Madeline McNamara
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: NC-17