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Modra: More Slovakian idyll than convincing drama

Hallie Switzer and Alexander Gammal in a scene from "Modra"

2 out of 4 stars


Somewhere within these frames there's a good film that never got made. Maybe that's why Modra looks half-emerged, struggling to negotiate that leap from conception to screen, and mainly falling short. Disaffected by what is, we're left to ponder what might have been, to conjure up the much better movie still stuck within its creator's head. Nothing wrong with making an audience do some imaginative work, but hell, not all the work.

The head in question belongs to Ingrid Veninger, who starts us off with a premise of dubious simplicity. Lina, a Toronto teenager, is set to embark on a vacation with her boyfriend back to her Slovakian roots. On the eve of departure, the guy dumps her, but as hoary coincidence would have it, Leco is standing by. Who? Well, exactly. Seems he's a virtual stranger to Lina, a schoolmate she barely knows yet blithely invites on the trip. Off they merrily go.

Cut to their arrival in Modra, a small town of bucolic prettiness and umpteen relatives, all warmly embracing the girl and wrongly assuming that the boy is her main squeeze. The rest, of course, is the usual adolescent quest for identity - Lina's solitary hunt for her ethnic heritage, plus Lina and Leco's shared search for their maturing selves.

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The first goes swimmingly. A gaggle of aunts and uncles and cousins treat their Canadian kin to rounds of hearty meals, historic sites, local lore and impromptu concerts in native costume, blessed at every turn with good cheer and ample sunshine. She's completely won over. For our part, as a static camera peers out yet again at the pastoral splendour, it all plays like a message from the Slovakian Chamber of Commerce. Book your flight now, non-stop to Bratislava.

Inevitably, the second quest proves rockier. Battling those standard foes - hormones and insecurity - the two teens lurch to and fro between incipient romance and screaming matches. Lurch, indeed. War erupts as suddenly as peace is declared, with the script doing little to justify either outbreak. Veninger has cast her own daughter, Hallie Switzer, in the female lead, along with Alexander Gammal as Leco, and the pair are definitely adroit at capturing the awkward moments, but alas, their stiffness extends to every other scene too.

Still, there's a raw naturalism in each performance that's intermittently beguiling, just as there are traces of charm in the movie - the battered loudspeaker in the square that acts as the town crier, the tears in the eyes of an aged relative as she hugs the future she'll never live to see - that hint temptingly at the better movie that never got made. It clearly wants to get out; maybe next time.


  • Directed and written by Ingrid Veninger
  • Starring Hallie Switzer and Alexander Gammal
  • Classification: 14A

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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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