BNFF10 REVIEW: Christina [2010]

“To the end of Berlin and the beginning of America”

After some ill-received thrillers and a misfire with the script of Halloween: Resurrection, I’m not exactly sure why Larry Brand gravitated to writing and directing a very small, three character piece dealing with emotional turmoil at the end of WWII. I can only assume that this has been a passion project of his for some time and I applaud the newly formed Michigan-based 8180 Films for supplying the money to get this expertly acted and shot piece into theatres. Reminiscent of stage play-to-film adaptations like Oleanna, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Death and the Maiden, Brand’s Christina completely takes place in the oddly luxurious apartment of the titular German character on the night of her American G.I.’s return. The room is dark, the electricity goes out, but love is in the air as Christina and Billy ready for their journey across the Atlantic to start a new life together. It’s never that easy, though, as a police inspector soon arrives, dredging up past secrets that could risk unraveling all their plans; dark deeds hidden by a fractured mind of fear and distress, uncovering the pasts these two star-crossed lovers never thought would ever come to the surface.

The closing night feature, as well as winner of Best Film, at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, Christina shows the kind of power that can be yielded from a well-crafted story, drawing you in deeper and deeper with every peeled back layer. Berlin has fallen and destruction is all that’s left. People are still missing, buildings are destroyed, and many soldiers await their chance to go home. Fresh from a disciplinary hearing stemming from a lapse in judgment involving him and the black market trade of stockings, Billy needs to see his love even if he should remain on the base until departure in six weeks. Christina has been cleaning and cooking an Americanized meal for her lover, hoping to prove her worth and make him need her as much as she needs him. While readying the apartment, however, she makes sure to keep all her windows blacked out and her bedroom door closed, speaking softly to an unknown entity beyond the door to stay still and be quiet upon his arrival. It’s an intriguing mystery that soon becomes forgotten when her cheerful façade of love and adoration takes over, dotingly keeping her boyfriend occupied with kisses, food, and dancing—all the while making sure he does not open the bedroom door.

Jordan Belfi and Nicki Aycox play the pair, he an aspiring journalist and her learning English to sustain a life abroad and away from the horrors experienced in her country the past few years. Belfi shows some good acting range, something that his role in HBO’s “Entourage” lacks, although his part there is a favorite quasi-villainous one of mine. He is protective of Christina and willing to forgive anything that occurred in her past because the present is all that matters to him. He’s made mistakes of his own and is looking to start fresh just as much as her. Aycox, though, is revelatory as the lead here. Handling the accent and fumbling of English to perfection, you sense that perhaps her disposition is a little too sunny. When Belfi’s Billy slips and jokingly calls her a Kraut, an unseen anger flies forth with a clear-headed force that breaks through the kind demeanor, showing a glimpse of the person she has been hiding beneath. Not the only one with secrets, however, Billy also receives his moment of clarity when called a hero. All the optimism and outlook towards the future drains away, leaving a broken man that has seen death firsthand. He is no hero—yet those sentiments may not stem from the battlefield, but instead from his lack of fortitude in exposing injustice to save his own neck.

So, what seems at first to be a simple reunion to bide the time until they can leave Europe behind soon becomes an airing of transgressions, some minor and others unavoidably worse. Right when Christina is about to tell Billy of a secret child, conceived with the apparition of a childhood classmate one night when she visited her old hometown, a knock on the door changes everything. Inspector Reinhardt enters and starts to throw accusations around—all of which are deflected with a wavering confidence by Christina before the guilt of truth is too much to bear. The Inspector’s sole purpose in their lives is to alleviate his own sense of guilt, realizing the hundreds and thousands of people he watched be taken in the night without ever lifting a finger to intervene. He understands now that in a world of crime, one small life can sometimes be forgotten, but he refuses to give up on the child he has been searching for, the one life he might still have a chance to save. It is this child that he believes Christina is the mother of, but in order to get to the truth he must watch the denial wash away from the young woman, feeding her the facts about her real identity, her means of sustaining the style of living she has, and the horrors accomplished in order to survive during a time where living didn’t seem like a viable conclusion.

Reinhardt is the catalyst for all conflict to occur in the film, the voice of conscience that is itself jaded and broken like the others. No one is perfect here and they are all on the cusp of a new world for which to live and exist without the worry of what came before. But you cannot run away from the truth so easily; the mind may work its hardest to cover up horrendous actions, but they will always surface in some form. Stephen Lang tries his hardest to steal the show from Aycox as Reinhardt, but I do believe only ends up matching her skill—they are both phenomenal. The two are playing out the charade of her psyche, chipping away at the years of forgetting while Belfi is forced to sit back and listen, his pleas for the policeman to stop slowly dissolving into silence as the story begins to take shape. The horror of war wasn’t only fought on the frontlines, but also in the residential homes of mothers and children, never knowing if the next bomb would fall on their rooftop, killing them too. Christina shows us the hard decisions and the weakness of the mind to perform such unthinking deeds, all culminating in the unavoidable conclusion, perfect in its devastation.

Christina 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

photography:
[1] Stephen Lang, Nicki Aycox and Jordan Belfi in Christina
[2] Nicki Aycox in Christina

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