Return of the Storks



Palm Springs International Film Festival

Sen Film/Stoked Film/Hoo Doo

PALM SPRINGS -- A twentysomething flight attendant, fired and facing a noncommittal boyfriend, packs up her loose ends and visits her grandmother's rural idyll in the lovely-to-look-at but overly schematic "Return of the Storks." Touching upon individual longing, family dynamics and the legacy of war, the romantic drama conjures a strong sense of place but is never emotionally convincing. Slovakia's foreign-language Oscar submission, which didn't make the cut for the shortlist, screened in the Palm Springs festival's Awards Buzz section.

In the Slovakian village of Runina, nestled in verdant hills against the Ukrainian border, Vanda (Katharina Lorenz) receives a warm welcome from her grandmother, Magda (Kyra Mladeck), and Viktor (Radek Brzobohaty). Their true love, rekindled 50-odd years after the war separated them, stands in obvious contrast to Vanda's uncertainty. She talks with each of them about matters of the heart and invites the attentions of Miro, a self-styled "Carpathian Belmondo" (Lukas Latinak), who runs a smuggling route for refugees. In case the theme isn't clear, we're told that the village's annual contingent of nesting storks numbers only one this year -- a lone soul scanning the skies for his mate.

Unbeknownst to Vanda, back in Germany her boyfriend, David (Florian Stetter), has seen the commitment light and boarded a train for Slovakia. Perched in the sidecar of a comical tourist-service entrepreneur's motorbike, he makes his way to Runina, with stops along the route for folk-culture exotica, small-town fairs and redneck violence. Magda and Viktor, meanwhile, shelter a hungry Tajik family, abandoned by smugglers, who emerge from the forest begging for food. Vanda and Miro become involved in a high-stakes gambit to secure the family's transport to Austria, with romance, melodrama and intrigue colliding unpersuasively.

The debut feature of Martin Repka, who co-scripted with Eugen Gindl, is best in its more subdued observations, with vets Mladeck and Brzobohaty providing the most intriguing performances.