Film Review: Here and There

Unassuming but intermittently charming film echoes the work of Jim Jarmusch without becoming a warmed-over copy. Serbian-born writer-director Darko Lungulov makes the most of a good idea and a miniscule production budget.
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Given its metropolitan settings, Here and There should attract audiences that live in such places, though perhaps not too many people beyond. The existential pangs suffered by not one but two protagonists ring true.

Lungulov’s original narrative concerns Robert (David Thornton), a 52-year-old New Yorker and out-of-work jazz musician who desperately needs to shake up his life. When he meets Branko (Branislav Trifunovic), a Serbian immigrant, Robert is offered a way out of his rut: Branko will pay Robert $5,000 to travel to Serbia and marry his girlfriend, Ivana (Jelena Mrdja), so she can get her green card and join Branko in the States. In order to fulfill the bargain, Robert must leave his own girlfriend, Rose (Cyndi Lauper, the singer and Thornton’s real-life wife), but he agrees to do it.

On arrival in Belgrade, Robert clashes with Branko’s mother, Olga (Mirjana Karanovic), and becomes even more frustrated when Branko’s promised payment doesn’t arrive. Meanwhile, back in New York, Branko experiences angst himself when his vehicle is stolen and he must go through city bureaucracy in order to track it down.

Soon enough, Robert and Olga form a bond and fall in love, which further complicates Robert’s mission. Eventually, he follows through on his assignment to bring Ivana to New York, but he must also decide if he will return to his old life or start a new one.

Lungulov openly admits to his admiration for Jim Jarmusch’s films, from their depiction of clashing cultures to their deadpan humor to their long-take character studies. Here and There should be more winning for those unfamiliar with the films it emulates than for those previously informed, but as a variation on Jarmusch’s quirky indie formula, Lungulov’s effort (his second feature) is generally enjoyable and accomplished.

The actors, particularly Karanovic, ground the simple story with depth and honesty. Mathias Schoningh’s camerawork is unnecessarily shaky (in that TV cop drama hand-held way), but at least not too distracting. Lungulov and editor Dejan Urosevic neatly contrast the two cities in the parallel storylines. Only Dejan Pejovic’s original score is a loser—much too sweet and cutesy in spots for this kind of film.

But flaws and all, Here and There remains a likeable look at characters and cultures in transition.