BROKEN ENGLISH(director/writer: Gregor Nicholas; screenwriters: Johanna Pigott/Jim Salter; cinematographer: John Toon; editor: David Coulson; cast: Rade Serbedzija (Ivan), Aleksandra Vujcic (Nina), Julian Arahanga (Eddie), Marton Csokas (Darko), Jing Zhao (Clara), Li Yang (Wu), Madeline McNamara (Mira); Runtime: 92; Sony Pictures Classics; 1996-New Zealand)
“The film shies away from a lot of the dramatics it could have gone into, such as prying into the psyches of what drives people to blindly hate.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The film abounds in ironies. A Croatian family moves to Aukland, New Zealand, to escape the ethnic cleansing war of their homeland at the hands of the Serbs, only to find that the father, Ivan (Rade), can’t handle having a Maori, Eddie (Julian), going out with his favorite daughter Nina (Aleksandra). Though the father manages to do well economically in the building construction business, he does not feel at home with the culture and racial tolerance of the people here. New Zealand was chosen by the family because of the strong Dalmatian community already in place and the fact that the mother is a native New Zealander, giving them automatic citizenship.
Nina finds work in a Chinese restaurant and falls madly in love with the new Maori cook, Eddie. They immediately have a wild and reckless sexual relationship, one that results in her pregnancy. The film uses a multitude of different devices to emphasize the conflicting cultures and barriers that separate this interracial couple, such as the different music styles heard at her house as her relatives gather there to celebrate Croatian Independence Day compared to the more lively music heard at her Tongan neighbor’s house. Then there is the other matter, Nina must deal with her father’s hatred of Eddie’s color; while, at the same time, she must deal with her boyfriend and make her sexually exciting relationship with him be a lasting one. This after Ivan tells Eddie that Nina will always be one of his kind and will never be right for him.
The film works on many different levels, as it explores the difficulties people have in believing in the love they have in their heart when there are so many outside forces working against them. Love is thought of as something only the daring try to achieve. It points out that it is too easy for most people to go along with the prejudices one is brought up with. Nina is embarrassed and struck with conflict over her decision to be with Eddie, since she knows that her father loves her and that she has hurt him badly; and, that there is no chance for him ever changing. She loves her father, no matter how much she differs with him, which makes her decision to be with Eddie a very difficult one; especially, since her father says that if she goes with Eddie she is gone forever. That part of the story was very well developed and acted out. It would be too easy to make the father out to be a hopeless one-dimensional villain; the filmmaker made it possible to see his point of view, how he believes that there are only us and them in this world. Everything is black and white for him. The only people he hates more than the indigenous peoples, are the Serbs. And if you see where he is coming from then you can, at least, understand him a little better.
There is also a subplot about immigration being restrictive and forcing people who want to stay in NZ, to resort to false marriages. This plot was awkwardly worked into the story, using the Chinese couple as a paradigm for hard work who would be good to have in the country and therefore shouldn’t be forced to enter the country by illegal means. That argument didn’t seem to be too convincingly done and, besides, it drained energy from the main plot.
The film shies away from a lot of the dramatics it could have gone into, such as prying into the psyches of what drives people to blindly hate; and, it should have made the background story of why the Croatian family came to New Zealand a more meaningful one. Instead, it resorted to comic relief to avoid any further controversy.
As a result we see a pretty good film but we are not let in on the secret workings of the family, and so we don’t really know what to make of all that was brought out into the open. We can’t even be sure that the lustful relationship between Eddie and Nina will be able to be maintained as anything but a lustful arrangement. But we can be sure of one thing, where there is youth there is the possibility for rebellion.
REVIEWED ON 3/16/99 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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