'Dual': Outfest Review

The filmmaker’s unusual blend of lightheartedness, dark comedy and poignant drama is assured.

Nejc Gazvoda’s second feature follows two young women as they fall in love over a 24-hour period in the Slovenian capital.

A delayed flight leads to a life-changing romantic connection for two young women in director Nejc Gazvoda’s Dual, a drama that embraces the exuberance as well as the risk-taking of falling in love. The movie takes a while to become emotionally involving and is in some ways more powerful in retrospect. As in the filmmaker’s 2011 debut feature, A Trip (Slovenia’s official Oscar submission), complex matters of life and death pierce the deceptively playful surface of youthful high jinks, and individual struggles hint at the larger malaise of an Eastern Europe in transition. Gazvoda’s sophomore offering screened at Outfest in Los Angeles and is certain to book more stops on the festival circuit.

After her connecting flight is canceled and she’s stuck overnight in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, Danish passenger Iben (Mia Jexen) doesn’t disembark when the shuttle reaches the hotel. Instead she asks the driver, Tina (Nina Rakovec, of A Trip), to show her the city. Beyond her physical attraction to Iben, Tina perceives something in the seemingly free-spirited Danish woman’s request, a sorrow or longing, perhaps, that she takes seriously without understanding. After a quick drive and the first of several awkward goodbyes, the two end up walking around the city together, Tina ultimately forgoing sleep before an important job interview the next morning.

The set-up’s similarity to Before Sunrise is obvious, but this is a very different film. The central duo’s wanderings are fueled more by chemistry than conversation. There are dialogue-free stretches, and when Iben and Tina do converse (in English), they’re not given to philosophical debate. Claiming that she’s a nobody with no stories to tell and no secrets to reveal, Tina has little to say. It’s increasingly clear, though, that Iben has more on her mind than tourism.

In early scenes, their mutual infatuation is not particularly compelling. With her childlike style of dress and insistence on cheer, Iben at first exasperates with her self-consciously adorable wackiness. But the character, who has never before been involved with a woman, deepens with the revelation of the reason for her travels. In a highlight of the film, Gazvoda uses the language barrier between the two women — neither understands the other’s native tongue — to divulge this key piece of information to the audience, and not to Tina. The paradox that the more forthcoming and sunny Iben is the one with a secret, and a dark one at that, lends emotional power to the drama as the central characters’ feelings for each other build. Cutesiness gives way to poignancy, which never lapses into the maudlin.

The director draws subtle work from the lead actresses, especially in the more layered second half of the film, and the entire cast is strong. Gazvoda and co-scripter Janez Lapajne open the story to make stinging observations about economic uncertainty and existential fear — and not just among the younger generation. Tina’s parents (Matjaz Tribuson and Natasa Barbara Gracner) are steeped in middle-aged regret and resignation, while her close friend and airport coworker Matic (Jure Henigman, in his second Gazvoda feature), feeling stuck, is on the verge of turning prematurely bitter.

In a change of tone that works, Tina’s bank-job interview plays out as a near-absurdist parody of careerism. It’s not the only place where Gazvoda subverts expectations: Lip-synching sequences bookend the film, striking a mood of droll lightness as characters mouth the lyrics to “Cold Heart” by Danish pop duo Monkey Cup Dress. The song’s optimism reflects the leap Tina and Iben are making, toward each other and toward a life on their own terms. “It’s hard,” Tina’s father tells her with grudging admiration, “when the people who are brave happen to be your children.”

As well as being alert to the smallest changes in expression, Darko Heric’s camerawork showcases the emptiness of the nighttime city but for two ambling souls, an eloquent visual corollary to the new intimacy that’s unfolding.

 

Production companies: Perfo, Beofilm, Dim Studio
Cast: Nina Rakovec, Mia Jexen, Natasa Barbara Gracner, Matjaz Tribuson, Jure Henigman
Director: Nejc Gazvoda
Screenwriters: Nejc Gazvoda, Janez Lapajne
Producers: Andrej Stritof, Ales Pavlin
Director of photography: Darko Heric
Production designer: Niko Novak

Costume designer: Nadja Bedjanic
Editors: Janez Lapajne, Nejc Gazvoda, Marina Andree Skop
Music: Monkey Cup Dress

No rating, 97 minutes

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