A distinctive Balkan drama set amidst the busy streets of Manhattan Serbian director Vladan Nikolic's Love (2005) banks on a number of genre clichés to tell a story with plenty of zest. Murder, betrayal, and romance are mixed to perfection in what could be one of the best independent films you would see this year.
A lonely hit-man (Sergej Trifunovic), his ex-lover (Geno Lechner), and her fiancée (Dirk Malloy) have found a piece of heaven amidst the busy streets of New York. The hit-man has chosen to forget his past, his ex-lover has chosen to live in the present, while her fiancée looks to the future. When their paths intersect the three will discover that the lives they left behind are have become too difficult to ignore.
It seems like remembering is the key theme in Nikolic's work. As the audience is introduced to the main protagonists a narrator slowly explains what they have struggled with in the past, what they have failed to achieve. Then the voice calmly points what each of them has found in the present: peace.
It is not too long however before each of the three protagonists realizes that work (killing, helping the sick, and serving the law) has nothing to do with peace. It is just an illusion, a temporary patch placed on their wounds to numb the pain. As the story progresses the trio slowly succumbs to what they fear the most: their feelings.
The moment Nikolic reunites the main protagonists with their past Love becomes a depressingly dark film. A melancholic soundtrack further exacerbates the sense of desperation. Eventually, the story veers off in a direction one would have rightfully dismissed given the upbeat opening scenes.
Shot with a hand-held camera Love reveals enough finesses and precision to sustain its stylish look. The subdued lighting and sporadic accent-flavored dialog truly provide an exotic feel to this small-budget production.
The acting is near flawless. The colorful cast does an excellent job in recreating the international flavor of New York City. Run down locales, beat-up apartment buildings, and abandoned rusty cars are part of pic's distinctive look.
Pic's greatest asset however is its open invitation to read the main protagonists and their lives. Nikolic has mastered a convincing and above all authentic tale about human beings struggling to outpace life.
In 2006 the film won the Golden Reel Award for Best Director at the Tiburon International Film Festival. The film is winner of the Best Film Award at the Barcelona Film Festival.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs the print provided by Koch Lorber Films looks good. This is a progressive transfer, with convincing contrast (fitting the film's low-budget look), and a color-scheme which feels accurate. I did not detect any damage and for the most part when blown through a digital projector the film look notably strong. There are a few minor artifacts during the opening scene but nothing that could detract from the overall solid look this print reveals.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an English DD track the audio treatment is good. Dialog is easy to follow and the supporting music is well-mixed with it. I could not detect any disturbing drop-outs or hissing(s). The issue here is the lack of English subtitles which could have helped a bit given the fact that some of the actors speak with an accent.
Aside from the original theatrical trailer (two versions a short and a long one) the only other supplemental material you would find on this disc is a "Making Of" piece. It is a rather standard exposé of the filming process in addition to some revealing comments by the director regarding the budget and the commitment of those involved in this project.
A small-budget independent picture with a big heart Love does an excellent job of recreating a mini-Balkan drama amidst the streets of Manhattan. The disc by Koch Lorber Films looks solid and I strongly recommend that you take a look at if independent cinema is your passion.