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Fractured Family

Broken English
Tattoo View: Nina (Aleksandra Vujcic) and Eddie (Julian Arahanga) make a plea for Croat-Maori understanding.

Multiculti romance down under

By Richard von Busack

IN WRITER/DIRECTOR Gregor Nicholas' debut film, Broken English, Nina (Aleksandra Vujcic), a Croatian wild girl with New Zealand citizenship falls for a studly Maori named Eddie (Julian Arahanga). The path of love, however, is never smooth. Nina has a very old-fashioned father, Ivan (Rade Serbedzija). The recent unpleasantness in the former Yugoslavia (viewed in video footage over the titles and on television in Nina's parents' living room) has made Dad all the more traditional, and we see what his temper is like when he uses a baseball bat to bash in the Jaguar of a friend he catches kissing his grown-up daughter. Nina figures that the fastest way out is by marrying for dollars, and she agrees to marry a Chinese immigrant named Wu (Yang Li) for $10,000. Eddie accepts the situation and moves in with the unconsummated and unconsummating newlyweds.

Antipodeal Erskine Caldwell, in short: sordid, engrossing, but light and with a mostly happy ending. Broken English has its cheap side, with a Patrick Swayze­movie finale and an especially fake sex scene to cover up the simplicity of the material. Nicholas is inclined toward the stereotype: the black-gowned granny imported from the old country is a one-woman joke you wait to see pay off, and Wu is the Oriental nerd par excellence--everything but the pocket protector. Ivan's Croat compound is a real nest of hillbillyism, and Nicholas enjoys the details, from the cartons of cigarettes stacked along the walls to the cinder-block minimum-security prison walls. If he leans toward sketch humor, Nicholas has enough honor to make sure that Ivan's rigidity doesn't crack. This is a triple blessing, first because it isn't the obvious ending, second because the conclusion doesn't patronize Ivan's character, and third because it gives this featherweight import some heft.

Broken English (NC-17; 90 min.), directed by Gregor Nicholas, screenplay by Johanna Pigott, James Salter and Nicholas, photographed by John Toon and starring Aleksandra Vujcic.

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From the May 22-28, 1997 issue of Metro

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