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Accented Cinema: Last Resort.

This response will discuss how the transient experience presented in the film Last Resort acts to present the migrant in exile. This response will firstly establish how the film is set within the context of British cinema and how in its accented form, proposes an alternative perspective on the migrant experience.

In the broadest sense, the term ‘British cinema’ is an umbrella term for the cinematic texts which are produced in and about Britain. However, the all-encompassing notions which this traditional perspective alludes to are problematic as they offer a very one-dimensional perspective of what the British experience is. The implication here of course is that British cinema is a canonical blanket term, offering a ‘one for all’ experience. This renders a traditional British cinema film questionable in its effectiveness to act as true representation. According to Andrew Higson; “The shared collective identity masks a range of internal differences and potential and actual antagonisms.”[1]What Higson means by this is that the typical rendition of British cinema does not represent the multi-faceted lived experience of what Britain means for people not covered by the umbrella term. Take for example those outside of the main body politic, that is, the non-middle class or non-indigenous people of Britain, or those within the border space of abjection.

Pertaining to this line of inquiry, Thomas Elsasser argues that to get a true definition of national identity, a director must respond to how people “ask to be represented”[2]in order to gain a much more detailed and representative perspective on what it is to have a British experience. Here, Elsasser’s implication is that there is, to some extent, a failure of traditional British cinema to achieve true representative accounts of the British experience for if there was success here, the question would never have been asked; it is precisely this question of representation which last resort aims to address. Through the agency of the main character Tanya, a Russian native, Director Pawel Pawlowski enables the accented to have their voice and it is through Tanya that the film responds to those who ‘ask to be represented’ these being the ‘white other’ within Britain.

At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Tanya and her son Artiom at the airport. However, it soon becomes clear that Tanya becomes a victim of what has been called ‘white filtering.’ This being the process in which immigration officers change their attitudes dependant on the kind of migrant someone is. For example, a cosmopolitan, and affluent European visitor is to be treated much better than an asylum seeker. This is of course problematic as what is exemplified here is an example of binary oppositional empiricism; there is the welcomed on the one hand, and the not welcome abject on the other. At this point where Tanya discloses that her British fiancé ‘Mark Wallow, was supposed to pick her up from the airport, but he has not. Immediately after this, Tanya is asked how much money she has, and based on her response being 85 dollars, she is asked to take a seat in the waiting area coupled with the reply “that’s not very much is it.”[3] It is in this instance where her affluency, or lack of, is questioned and she begins to be subjected to the empiricism of the immigration officer. After several exchanges, she sees herself becoming an asylum seeker ‘accidentally. ‘ This sees her becoming the abject.

What is also significant here is that it takes place in an airport, which is a space of stasis. It is here in which no borders exist, the diegetic sounds of aeroplanes taking off can be heard connoting the sense of freedom and autonomy of movement. However, now that Tanya is an asylum seeker, she has allowed herself to be stateless and thus controlled directly by the British state in that she now holds no rights in law. This exemplifies what Imogen Tyler cites as the means by which the term ‘asylum seeker’ is used in immigration discourse to remove rights of refugees.[4] Although it is clear that Tanya is not a refugee, discourses around the biopolitical still encumber themselves upon her, exhibiting a kind of state control over the foreign other in Britain. This all happens very quickly in the film and the speed of which it does alludes to the precarious nature of the non-space, and to the foreigner within it.

When forcibly located to a holding centre, it soon becomes apparent that Tanya loses all agency, directly at the hands of the British state. She cannot leave and does not even know where she is. However, there are numerous instances of state surveillance in the film with the ubiquity of CCTV cameras acting to exhibit two things. On the one hand, this is explicit in terms of being within the universe of the film, whilst also acting as a comment upon the abject being an object of ‘border voyeurs.’ This is achieved by the camera slowly zooming out of an establishing shot of Tanya and her son walking, to show a security room in which there are many screens. It is here, which the film does not interpolate us to see Tanya’s experience as one as simple entertainment, but instead acts as a commentary on means by which accented cinema is able to put forward a position that the migrant is to be empathised with in regards to how the government is able to essentially do as they please with them.

What should also be taken into account is how the seaside represents that which is on the edges of British society; the seaside is of course in itself a landscape of barriers, surrounded by the sea, there is no room for Tanya and her son to leave on a practical level. At every attempt to do so in the context of the film there is a barrier in place. For example, in one scene, the pair attempt to get a train out of ‘stonehaven’ they are told no because there are no trains. In another moment in the film, Tanya, her son and Alfie are all playing together on the beach by a broken boat. This is an ironic moment for their laughter connotes fun, but this is juxtaposed by the non-diegetic sound of music reminiscent of that found in an arcade. The function of this scene is that the three accept their position in “the armpit of the world.”[5] The audience are supposed to interpret this scene as tragic; the broken boat by the sea connotes Tanya’s loss of autonomy and freedom of movement but in the context of the scene, the happiness which she experiences with Alfie, her romantic interest, relays the fact that she in fact uses her abjection to gain a new kind of autonomy this being able to choose happiness despite every effort by the state to hinder her ability to choose; Tanya chooses to be happy and under her own control for this instance, it is her moment.

Through the juxtaposing moods within this scene, the film can show the migrant to hold Agency by their ultimate ability to choose. What this does to the viewer is not interpolate us to pity Tanya but instead to empathize with her and in effect humanise her. It is in this action the film instead asks its viewer to not be complicit to what is currently happening under British immigration, but instead to question its very existence. It is here in which the film can question nationhood.[6] It does this by asking its viewer to acknowledge this is happening within Britain and question the moral choices of the British state.

In conclusion, Last resort offers a perspective of the marginalised in a humanised way; it demands of its viewers to consider a migrants right to life, autonomy and to question not the state of the nation, but how the nation is complicit within the enactment of the detention centre. It is precisely in the agency of Tanya that we see a different perspective in that we see a migrants Britain.

[1] Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag (1998) p.4 [2] Thomas Elsaessar cited ‘Welcome to Dreamland: The realist impulse in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Las resort by Alice Bardon [3] Last Resort, dir. Pawel Pawlowski (BBC, 2000) [4] Imogen Tyler, Cited in Alice Bardon ibid. [5] Last Resort, Ibid [6] Andrew Higson, The complexity of National Cinema


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