The forecast according to Judge David Johnson calls for a gritty independent noir with a stunning leading lady.
He was her best hope…and her worst nightmare.
This independent film about the rigors of illegal immigration and hanging out with deranged Bosnian mobsters who happen to be your brother landed a Best Actress award for the bodacious Oksana Orlenko, who plays the title role, at the 2003 Milan International Film Festival.
Facts of the Case
It's the early '90s, and Lana (Orlenko) is enveloped in the savagery of the Balkan Wars. Her friends and family have all been killed, and she's just trying to stay alive herself. Incredibly, she manages to connect with her long-lost brother Darco (Nickolai Stoilov). Darco is righteous Eurotrash and is being hunted by a ruthless killer, but Lana doesn't know that. Darco convinces his sister to come with him to America and escape the horrors of war. So the two mount up and head off to the one place where all their hopes and dreams can come true, and where sweet, sweet honey flows down the streets. That's right—Chicago, Illinois.
But as soon as the two arrive, Lana learns the hard way that life sucks for a penniless, destitute, illegal Bosnian refugee. Their money mysteriously disappears, and, of course, Lana must enter the wild world of whoring. With encouragement from her brother-turned-pimp—acchhh!—Lana begins her tenure as a lady of the evening.
Her descent into squalor and abuse is augmented by the ever-increasing bastardosity of her brother. Even a fleeting affair with a soft-spoken Asian artist named Julian (Luoyong Wang) isn't enough to instill hope into her ravaged soul.
But a generous helping of sweet-ass revenge might be just the ticket.
At the risk of having some of our more sophomoric readers pull the following statement out of context and use it to make a mildly amusing, though potentially inappropriate joke at my expense in the Jury Room, I'll say this: I enjoyed Lana's Rain. This a very gritty story that engaged me less with its immigration-can-be-tough theme and more with the seedy-Bosnian-underworld angle. Now, I'm not unsympathetic toward Lana's hard slog down Chicago's mean streets, but the whole shebang didn't strike me as an authentic look at the day-to-day travails of immigrants. Or at least the legal immigrants. Because, seriously, are there a lot of forlorn Eastern European women out there who haplessly hitched their destiny to their one-eyed scumbag mobster brother?
And this is not to say that writer-director Michael Ojeda crafted a soulless exercise in quasi-noir. In fact, he's done something bold with his film; for the first half of the movie, our main characters—Lana and Darco—speak only Croatian. With its heavy use of subtitles (diabolical white subtitles and your godforsaken blending in with everything, I lament thee!) Lana's Rain could pass as a foreign film. Ojeda's stylistic choice pays off a surprising degree of authenticity. Yes, Lana eventually learns English, but it takes a while. And when she does, it makes her assimilation that much more convincing, and, at the same time, depressing. Because along with this assimilation, she has degraded herself in innumerable ways working for he brother.
Now, as bad a Darco sounds—and he is a douchebag—his character still boasts more complexity than most other thriller heavies. He's a scared man, running from a profoundly sadistic foe (who uses chainsaws "for more than cutting wood"). So he does have an ounce of humility, but this fear isn't enough to stifle his greed or his willingness to exploit his sister. The relationship between sister and brother drives the film, though we see everything through the character of Lana. Orlenko is awesome here; this is a character that absorbs metric tons' worth of crap, but her trials have granted her firm resolve and a level of cold-bloodedness that reaches sweet fruition by the end. Lana is a strong woman caught in a hopeless mess, whose transition from wide-eyed awkward naïveté to cold, calculating cynicism is striking, though it never completely diminishes her will to improve her state. Lana's Rain is a fine piece of independent cinema.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is washed out and peppered with flaws. However, I didn't find this counterproductive. Though a fairly recent film (2002), it looks like it could have been shot in the early '90s, when it was set. Ojeda has rendered a cold, gritty look, and it serves the story well. A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is included, but it is quite subdued.
A nice slate of special features accompany the film, including a commentary track with Ojeda, producer Joel Goodman, and Oksana Orlenko; a television interview from Chicago Tonight with the same three; and couple of nice featurettes. The first is a general behind-the-scenes documentary that sports contributions from cast and crew. The second depicts the vision and execution of one of the final sequences in the film. A photo gallery and the film's trailer finish things off. It's a satisfactory, eclectic mix of extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only gripe with the movie is this: It's one scene too long. Ojeda had a dynamite final shot, but faded to a clumsy, too-neat ending that clashed with the overall feel of the film.
It's always fun to catch a solid little flick like Lana's Rain. Never heard of it before. And it might not have grabbed my attention if I had seen it just hanging out on a shelf. But worth my time, it was. And the tying in of the ending to the title—priceless it is. And why the $%&@ am I talking like Yoda?
Not guilty. (Insert funny Balkan Wars pun here.)
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Commentary by Cast and Crew
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