Refugees Reach An Alien Land

Posted: September 05, 1986

The trucks with forlorn passengers huddled in back lumber through the darkness to the ominous camp. When they arrive, loudspeakers above the fences blare orders in strident German.

It is a scene made familiar by films devoted to the Holocaust, and the knowledge of the fate that awaits the prisoners when they reached the camp always makes it profoundly moving. But in Silver City we are dealing with survivors who somehow managed to endure the unspeakable and live to become refugees. What happened to the displaced persons after World War II is itself an unsavory chapter in this century's sorry history. Even when there were compassion and good will, the problems of adjustment and resettlement were massive.

For the Polish and Eastern European refugees who found themselves strangers in the strange land of Australia (they were addressed in German because it was a language they all understood), those problems were especially acute. And it is this background and a meticulously evoked sense of time and place that make Sophia Turkiewicz's film both absorbing and affecting. The plot borders on the melodramatic, but the movie is so observant about the collision of two cultures that it really doesn't matter. And in Gosia Dobrowolska's luminous account of the heroine, Lena, there are an authority and accuracy that further

obscure the shortcomings of Silver City.

These mostly have to do with dialogue. Even among themselves (and this is both hard to believe and a dramatic liability for the film) the Poles speak English rather than their own tongue. The consequence is that the film's most powerful moments are sapped of their impact by stilted and clumsy dialogue. It takes a first-rate actress to overcome such a drawback and Dobrowolska brings it off.

Turkiewicz's main strength as a director lies in the way she creates with small incidents a context and a mood. For example, one of the problems the women refugees have is coping with the attitude of Australian men toward their sex. At the time, that attitude was fairly Neanderthal, and many Australian feminists will tell you it's not much better today. Turkiewicz conveys this with a scene in a pub in which Lena tries to order cognac. The bartender insists that she take a shandy, a foul mixture of beer and lemonade, as a more fitting drink for a lady and declines to serve her when she becomes insistent.

Silver City is full of such telling moments and doesn't stint in revealing the hostility and exploitation that greeted the refugees when they arrived. It opens with an encounter on a train in 1962 between Lena and Julian, and then tells the story of their doomed love affair and a love triangle that is completed by Julian's remarkably blind wife, Anna, who considers Lena her best friend.

There is nothing arresting or especially original in the conflicts generated or in the compromises and pain that result. But Dobrowolska makes Lena's plight memorable, especially in portraying a woman who found something within herself when she thought she had lost everything. Silver City opens a one-week run today at the Roxy Screening Room.


Produced by Joan Long, directed by Sophia Turkiewicz, written by Thomas Keneally and Sophia Turkiewicz, photography by John Seale, music by William Motzing, distributed by Samule Goldwyn co.

Running time: 1 hr. 44 mins.

Lena - Gosia Dobrowolska

Julian - Ivar Kants

Anna - Anna Jemison

Viktor - Steve Bisley

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes, nothing offensive)

Showing: The Roxy Screening Room

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