Darko Lungulov’s Here and There feels exactly like an amateur effort from a first-time director. It’s no surprise then to learn that Lungulov won a script-development award at the 2006 Thessaloniki Film Festival, which helped finance this film. Watching it, Here and There still feels bound to the page, with a lot of compelling ideas about immigration and latter-day urban decay that are never given much dramatic shape.
Robert (David Thornton) is a dejected, middle-aged New York City musician. He hasn’t been able to play any clubs in some time, and we’re never quite certain if he’s depressed because his career has stalled, or if his depression halted his career. When he’s evicted from his one-room apartment, Robert accepts a peculiar business offer from a Serbian friend. He does have one thing going for him, after all: He’s an American citizen. His friend wants Robert to travel to Serbia and marry his girlfriend, so he can bring her back to America to be with him.
Robert’s friend is still clinging to the American dream, and thinks that life in New York must be inherently better than in Serbia. But Lungulov is careful to show the poverty and struggle of today’s New York City. Unlike so many films of the past couple decades, he doesn’t depict Manhattan as an urban Disney World. He shoots the early scenes of Robert’s struggles in the city with long lenses, flattening him against a backdrop of unemployment and squalor. It’s as if the economic collapse of 2008 ushered in another round of ‘70s urban decay. When one character in Serbia says to Robert, “We don’t live in Belgrade. We survive in Belgrade,” he could be saying the same thing about the Big Apple, at least as Robert has experienced it. Thornton has to be commended for creating such an unremittingly depressed (and depressing) character in Robert, which seems to contradict Lungulov’s own annoyingly clichéd vision of the character—in his script—as Ratzo Rizzo played by a grouchy, middle-aged Al Pacino. Yes, Lungulov does have Robert even say “I’m walking here!” in one early scene.
Still, Here and There is little more than a missed opportunity. Lungulov stages most of his dialogue-heavy scenes in depressingly familiar settings—cafes, bars, and cars. Even Cyndi Lauper, who shows up briefly in an early scene as a friend of Robert’s, seems sullen and insecure in her part. That Lungulov makes so little use of an ‘80s icon casts serious doubt on his ability to handle his next project, Monument to Michael Jackson.