If Duska had ended after the first twenty minutes Jos Stelling’s latest effort would have been hailed as a cinematic masterpiece: rich in style, discreet metaphors and nearly dialogue-free.
The unlikely hero’s birth on the bus (and possibly the ugliest newborn ever to be appreciated on the silver screen) is wunderbar—especially when his fellow passengers burst into song to celebrate the new life. Cut to La Bohème and its portent of tragic death, while simultaneously meeting “Bob” (Gene Bervoets)—the retiring film critic—with an astonishing Alfred-Brendel countenance as he endlessly stares at a covey of Canadian flicks playing in the Luxor—a run-down multi-screen cinema conveniently situated across the street from his Amsterdam apartment.
But the real attraction for Bob is the seductive ticket girl. Long looks of pent-up desire, the frustration of watching her motorbike boyfriend ride off—with “The Girl’s” (Sylvia Hoeks)legs spread behind him every night after closing—is a fantasy-killer of the worst kind.
But soon, he—coincidentally—is at the scene of his secret desire’s breakup, happily whisking her away to his flat with cheesy B-flick music oozing out of the car radio.
Finally, pointing at a dead chicken dangling from the rearview mirror, the first words in 15 minutes are spoken: “What’s this?”
With that disappointment (hard to phathom any subtext/reason for the enforced wordlessness from such an inane line) the film loses its magical promise and merely lurches forward rather than flowing with grand design and mysteries to come.
Just as Bob is about to reach second base with The Girl, the door bell rings—coitus interuptus of the worst kind—in the personage of Duska (Sergei Makovetsky)—now a mature man who only speaks Russian and has descended into Bob’s life to cure the perpetual loneliness of both.
Here too, the chance for greatness (perhaps Duska can take on Of Mice and Men depth, even in his character’s simplicity—witness the forest bunny adding verisimilitude, unintended or not as Lennie did for his inseparable friend, George) can be found.
But, alas, we’re left with a stale—too-much-sugar-in-the-coffee gag (surely Stelling has seen this before)—and a love/hate relationship as Bob tries to simultaneously evict his friend and consummate his inborn passion for ticket-takers.
Did we mention he’s also nearly finished a screenplay?; Clichés “R” Us!
Still, those with a taste for the unusual and a pace that never purports to hurry, a peek at Duska might just provide a happy respite from films that don’t know how to breathe. JWR