Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Ingrid Veninger, director and writer
Starring: Hallie Switzer (Lina), Alexander Gammal (Leco), Mathieu Chesneau (Magician), Branislav Dugovic (Cousin Branko), Elena Dugovicova (Aunt Elenka)
For Ingrid Veninger, filmmaking is truly becoming a family affair. The talented Slovakian-Canadian director, writer, actor and producer has followed Only, her no-budget tale of puppy love between a couple of twelve year-olds, with Modra, a slightly better financed two-hander about romance among late adolescents. That the first film successfully starred her younger son Jacob and the new one her teenaged daughter Hallie shows that Ms. Veninger has immense talent, drive and discipline.
If there’s one thing, apart from the casting and the off-kilter romantic plots that binds these films together, it’s Veninger’s ineffable ability to make her stories charming. Viewers will leave the cinema after seeing Modra with silly little smiles on their faces. This quadruple talented filmmaker can evoke those first pangs and pleasures of love better than most directors in the world.
The plot of Modra has the beauty of simplicity. Lina (Hallie Switzer), a Toronto teen whose sweet demanour hides a complex heart, invites a nice athletic boy, Leco (Alexander Gammal) to accompany her on a trip to Slovakia after she’s been dumped by her boyfriend. When the duo arrive in Modra, a small town near Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, Lina’s relatives embrace them as a young couple in love.
Of course, they’re not: Lina and Leco are awkward teens trying to figure out if they even like each other. Romance is on their minds–and sex, of course–but so are embarrassment and jealousy. They want to get to know one another but they’ve put themselves in a vulnerable terrain to do so.
While the romance among this twosome unfolds, Veninger allows the film to meander in lovely ways. We get to hear Slovakian music—a mixture of Country and Western pop rock and folkie accordion based tunes–as performed by Bukasovy Masiv, a band led by one of the director’s relatives (playing, of course, one of Lina’s cousins.) The beauty of Slovakia’s hilly verdant countryside is ever on display as are, from time to time, the pleasures of the parts of the sweet little village that Modra used to be.
Veninger has the wit and temerity to slow the story down to the rhythms of life in a village–and to the angers and sighs of young love. Seemingly without effort, she stretches her story–part travelogue, part a young romance, part a North American woman learning about her ancestry–into a lovely feature film.
Ingrid Veninger and her daughter Hallie Switzer will be handling questions from the audience at every screening of Modra this coming week at The Royal, 608 College Street, in Toronto’s Little Italy. In Vancouver, Veninger’s parents, Helen and Frank, will be doing similar presentations at the downtown art house, Vancity. This is one film that has been produced, directed, written, acted–and marketed and distributed. Kudos to Ingrid Veninger.