Vodka Lemon

Director: Hiner Saleem

Armenia-France-Italy-Switzerland| 2003. English subtitles. Colour Dolby digital stereo. 84 mins.

‘Why is it called Vodka Lemon when it tastes of almonds?’ asks a surly customer as he buys a bottle of liquor from a deserted, snowbound roadside bar. ‘That’s Armenia,’ replies the barmaid cryptically. Kurdish-born director Hiner Saleem’s Vodka Lemon is one of those sly, captivating movies which disarms cynicism and charms you into smiling submission. As the long-suffering inhabitants of this post-Communist Armenian village struggle to make ends meet, virtually nothing of consequence happens. They are even reduced to nostalgia for the bad old days: ‘Before the Russians left, we didn’t have our freedom, but we had everything else.’
Nowadays, electricity and water, which used to be free, have to be paid for. And since there are no jobs, sprightly widower Hamo (Romen Avinian) must sell his few meagre possessions: a wardrobe bought when he and his wife were married, his old army uniform, his ancient TV. One of his sons is living in Paris with his beautiful French girlfriend, but his letters bring only news, never money. A second son loafs about the town, unemployed and rather too fond of the local tipple. The only bright spot is Hamo’s regular bus ride to visit his dead wife’s grave at the local cemetery: on the way there and back, he strikes up a friendship with the still beautiful widow, Nina (Lala Sarkissian), whose ex-spouse is also buried there.
There’s a hint of Aki Kaurismaki in the understated sight gags and deadpan dialogue; or perhaps the droll Georgian ?lmmaker Otar Iosseliani. Yet the bleak absurdist humour is counterbalanced by the director’s warm, generous tone, Michael Korb’s lively score, and cinematographer Christophe Pollock’s ravishing snowbound images.
Plus Harvey Krumpet, Adam Elliot’s Oscar-winning claymation short. (Australia, 2003. Colour. 22 mins.)

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