Screened as part of NZIFF 2003
Distant Lights orchestrates a profusion of stories into a resonant contemporary thriller. The Polish town of Slubice is a dangerous place for Russians and Ukrainians who hope to slip across the Oder to greater economic opportunities in Frankfurt-on-Oder in Germany. In Slubice smuggling illegal immigrants across the river is one growth industry, and conning them is the other. The film, set over a 48-hour period, follows several criss-crossing trajectories into the morass of treachery, opportunism, desperation and suspense. It abounds with memorable, credible characters: runaway kids in Germany who smuggle cigarettes across the border; a small-time entrepreneur exploiting cheap labour to sell black-market mattresses; a border police translator with conflicting loyalties; a Ukrainian family abandoned on the wrong side of the border; Berlin architects hoping to close a lucrative deal in Slubice… Schmid’s achievement in doing justice to the range of experience and aspiration that they embody, while implicating each of them in a tense, highly topical drama, is very impressive indeed.