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Review: Vodka Lemon

Anyone who can powerfully evoke the ecstasy of lovemaking with a shot of gently falling snow is a talent to watch.

Vodka Lemon
Photo: New Yorker Films

In the mountains of a post-Soviet Armenia, a small village attempts to eek out a living despite its blistering poverty. At the center of Hiner Saleem’s story is Hamo (Romen Avinian), an ex-soldier who makes daily trips to the cemetery to visit the grave of his wife and report the latest news of their sons’ embarrassments. It’s here that he repeatedly runs into Nina (Lala Sarkissian), a woman who works at a vodka lemon stand and similarly makes the daily trip to the burial site to visit her deceased husband. Their lengthy meet-cute is intercut with lovely and eccentric scenes of underdevelopment: Hamo haggles his furniture, a woman turns to prostitution, and others wonder if their lives were better under communism. Though these people are clearly depressed by their poverty, Vodka Lemon itself is far from dreary. Elvis Mitchell, that loon who used to write for The New York Times, ludicrously likened the film to “an Ice Capades version of a Beckett play,” which couldn’t be any further from the truth considering there’s no actual ice skating in the film and the story’s absurdist flashes are less intellectual than magical realist. In a sequence reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s existential short Two Men and a Wardrobe, Hamo sells a dresser to a couple, whose inability to carry the piece of furniture triggers a series of comic events. Equally wonderful is the closing sequence: When a man inadvertently confounds Hamo and Nina with a simple question and successfully lifts them out of their rut, the director creates a lovely visual counterpoint to their emotional uplift. A confident Saleem mirrors and reveals the beauty and perseverance of life in the mundane and absurd, and as such his film is really reminiscent of the works of Aki Kaurismäki and Emir Kusturica. Anyone who can powerfully evoke the ecstasy of lovemaking with a shot of gently falling snow is a talent to watch.

Cast: Romen Avinian, Lala Sarkissian, Ivan Franek, Armen Marutyan, Astrik Avaguian Director: Hiner Saleem Screenwriter: Lei Dinety, Pauline Gouzenne, Hiner Saleem Distributor: New Yorker Films Running Time: 87 min Rating: NR Year: 2003 Buy: Video

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