Love On The Rocks


Irish Times
Oct 15, 2004

Donald Clarke

REVIEWED – VODKA LEMON: Several times in Hiner Saleem’s engaging
Armenian drama a horseman races across the screen, his progress
unacknowledged by any of the characters. One is reminded of the
speeding motorcyclist in Local Hero, and Vodka Lemon, though darker
and more fatalistic than Bill Forsyth’s film, takes a similar delight
in eccentric lives.

Following the trials of Hamo (Romik Avinian), an ageing musician
trying to get by in a country coping poorly with capitalism, the
picture touches on what is becoming a common theme in world cinema:
stubborn nostalgia for the certainties of the communist system. Much of
the picture is taken up with the characters attempting to sell their
possessions for US dollars. “We’ve nothing left but our freedom,”
somebody says at one point.

Hamo, whose apparently useless son has left his isolated Kurdish
village for Paris, travels each day to the graveyard to pay his
respects to his late wife. Over time, he becomes aware of the
middle-aged woman who repeatedly asks the bus driver – a kindly fellow
like most of the film’s characters – to allow her to travel for free.

The two lonely people tiptoe towards an unlikely romantic relationship.

Composed for the most part of static shots, often taken from face-on,
the picture has the steady, uncomplicated feel of folk cinema. The
snow, the booze and the surrealism call to mind the work of Aki
Kaurismäki, but Saleem has managed to find a humane, confident voice
of his own. And, though terrible things happen, the director always
manages to maintain a welcoming ambience.

That said, there are more than enough outbreaks of wilful quirkiness
in the picture and readers allergic to narrative cop-outs may wish
to cover their eyes for the last five minutes. Solid work, nonetheless.