SIFF Review: Buick Riviera

If the '90s signal to us today a kind of near nostalgia for grunge rock and the Clinton economic boom, that decade means something quite different for refugees from the Balkan wars. Black-and-white flashbacks to that conflict occasionally interrupt the frozen North Dakota reverie of Hasan (Slavko Stimac) as he pilots his beloved vintage car along horizonless winter roads. Does he drive to forget? "That Buick is my America," says Hasan (who says very little, to the chagrin of his wife). The finicky old '60s relic is something he can control--until it slides off the road, and meek, mousy Hasan must accept a ride from the considerably bolder, insinuating Vuko (Leon Lucev), who also happens to speak Serbo-Croatian. Since the carefully composed widescreen Buick Riviera looks like Fargo, we expect bloody violence to erupt between these refugees--one a Bosnian Muslim, it emerges, the other a Serb. But director Goran Rusinovic insists on something slower and less obvious, a kind of psychological violence that continues to simmer when Vuko is invited--or rather, invites himself--home for dinner. The long silences are infected with old hatreds, and the bitter history of the Balkans soon overwhelms the Midwestern setting. Based on a Bosnian novel, Buick is American in name only (dialogue shifts in and out of English). Beyond the two wary immigrants, other characters don't exist. (As Hasan's unhappy EMT wife, poor Aimee Klein is stuck with the Melissa Leo role, saying things like, "You make it so difficult to love you.") The movie, like the book, like Hasan and Vuko, doesn't quite bridge the gulf between Old World and new. Revenge, on the other hand, provides an iron span.

Buick Riviera Uptown, 4:30 p.m. Wed., June 10.

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