Posted: 08/27/2010

 

A Call Girl

by Adam Mohrbacher




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In the opening of A Call Girl there is a scene which serves as an effective introduction to the titular character, while at the same time obliterating the comical stereotypes of prostitution found in Hollywood fluff fare such as Pretty Woman. Aleksandra, our young heroine, treads carefully through the plush exteriors of a downtown hotel. Bathed in a hellish red glow, she carefully avoids the suspicious eyes of hotel staff with a well-practiced sense of paranoia. Before long Aleksandra stands alone, facing a bloated toad of a man, who is loudly wheezing and clutching his chest in a deserted hotel room. Because of the inherent frankness of the film’s title it is easy to ascertain the seediness behind such an anonymous meeting. With minimal dialogue the film effortlessly pulls the viewer directly into Aleksandra’s world, and effectively suggests the occupational hazards associated with it. Aleksandra’s client is experiencing serious physical duress, and because of her profession and unfortunate timing, her world is about to become exceedingly more complicated.
A Call Girl is an exciting movie to experience because it is a film that seems to value character over plot, and substance over style. These are qualities that have been almost completely absent from mainstream American cinema in recent years. With a elegantly written script that creates real three-dimensional characters, and a sparse aesthetic style, director Damjan Kozole’s affecting character study creates a distinctive mood that is hard to shake off.
It is in the Eastern European country of Slovenia that our story begins. Aleksandra, a 23 year old college student, is attempting to establish herself in the country’s capital city, Ljubljana. Hailing from a small village near the capital, Aleksandra desires a complete reinvention of her existence, and the ability to fully embrace her new and exciting surroundings. However, her life is indeed a complicated one, filled with lectures, exams, and the occasional jaded ex-lover. Still, it is her profession as an anonymous sex-worker that imbues her life with the most volatility. As the self-appointed “Slovenian Girl” Alexandra is irrevocably drawn into contact with a plethora of unsavory and grotesque characters, including weirdo customers, the local flatfoots who want her for questioning regarding the death of her client during the opening scene, and, finally, murderous pimps hoping to infringe upon her financial successes.
Despite her attempt for total immersion in big city life Alexandra’s existence remains dichotomized by her consistent trips to her hometown. During her breaks from schoolwork Alexandra returns home to visit her father, Edo, played compassionately by Peter Musevski. It is here that A Call Girl begins to establish its most fascinating thematic statements. The film launches a powerful exploration of the ambivalent feelings that each character maintains regarding their personal surroundings, suggesting that they each have yet to find a happy medium between the gritty autonomy of the city and the grey monotony of the rural village.
There is a nearly unrelenting tone of isolation and general despondency that hangs over a majority of the action in A Call Girl. Director, Damjan Kozole, effectively reflects this with unobtrusive camerawork and a minimal use of music. Color is used sparingly yet to great effect in the film, showcased only during moments of intensity. In one scene a terrified Aleksandra flees from two violent and potentially sociopathic men. The screen is bathed with a cold and metallic array of blues, whites, and blacks. The efficacy of the scene is how efficiently the color enhances the emotional intensity, and allows audience members to empathize with Aleksandra’s visceral sensations of dread and vulnerability.
The acting of the film is uniformly excellent from each of the major cast members. Musevski plays Edo as a sad sack. He is a divorced and lonely man who has little in his life of much substance, aside from his love and devotion for his daughter, and the companionship of his best friend, Zdravko, played by Primoz Pirnat. The beauty of Musevski’s acting is the subtle manner in which he reveals his character’s personality and suggests that for every hangdog look and dispirited remark there is a hidden vitality. Pirnat is equally effective as Edo’s best friend. He carefully introduces a man whose benevolent exterior is a facade for a turbulent and dissatisfied personality. Kozole’s script gives both men excellent material to work from, yet occasionally it is in the exploration of their relationship that a rare misstep occurs, and the distinct tonal quality of the script evaporates. During one scene the two men discuss their fantasies for killing themselves by fatally twisting everyday experiences like driving a car. The script’s focus on each man’s morose personality suddenly becomes as inconspicuous as the runaway train from Inception. We get it. They’re depressed. Don’t bash us over the head with it.
The true backbone of the film lies in the performance of relative newcomer Nina Ivanisin, who plays the call girl, Aleksandra. A complex role for any actor Ivanisin nails the nuances of a woman trying to exist and manage her roles in two distinctly different worlds. The call girl scenes are especially effective because of the impersonal, disconnected and almost robotic manner in which Aleksandra conducts business with her clients. The familial chemistry between Aleksandra and Edo is both complicated and believable, with Ivanisin conveying affection yet also patronizing her father in an almost simultaneous fashion.
A film like A Call Girl is almost reminiscent of the intense character-driven dramas made in America throughout the 1970’s. Films that contained an undeniable energy due solely to the strength and skill behind the acting, direction, and writing. These were stories that were not solely concocted to provide simple entertainment, but to also deliver a unique perspective on lives not typically explored or discussed. It’s hard to imagine even the most stoic film lover not becoming slightly misty eyed when comparing something like A Call Girl to the pathetic stream of mindless and rehashed garbage that has been thrust into mainstream movie theaters for the past nine months of 2010. Perhaps someday the trend towards regurgitation of tried and true products and, even worse, remakes of perfectly good original films will inexplicably reverse itself. If not, hell, I guess there’s always Netflix.

Adam Mohrbacher is a freelance film critic living in Chicago.



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