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Broken English

"Broken English' opens on devastation in Croatia; three years later, it's in green, quiet New Zealand. A Croatian family - their mother was born there - have emigrated. Far from home, their father upholds old standards: With a baseball bat, he chases off a man he finds necking his daughter. The movie is about ethnic identity in a place where it can't be nurtured. The father, Ivan (Serbedzija), nurses old wounds, guards videos from home, and doesn't want locals to date his daughters.

One, Nina (Vujcic), who works in a Chinese restaurant and wears sexy clothes, is attracted to a Maori cook, Eddie (Arahanga), and begins a passionate relationship. Ivan broods about wrongs done to his people: At the war zone, the Pope asks for peace and forgiveness. "We've left that madness behind,' his wife cries. But not Ivan.

His mother visits from Croatia; Ivan holds a feast for her. Nina will bring "a friend' whom Ivan has just met - Eddie. Racial resentment rises when Nina arrives with two Chinese; as Ivan plays Croatian music, loud Maori music plays in the next yard. Ivan resents it. Eddie notices Nina, in tight leather pants, flirting with her father and all the men in her family. "Do you always sit on those guys like that?' he asks. She was taught to act that way at an early age. Undeclared, unconsummated incest is a family style. Nina will marry a Chinese man for $16,000; their marriage will give him citizenship. When the would-be groom drunkenly announces that to Ivan, brief, brutal violence sets up the ending.

The acting is effective. Arahanga's Maori finds a certain thoughtful detachment, which leads to a better perspective. Zing Zhao is a Chinese woman who wants only to "have a little kiwi.' The movie seems set to end in violence, but Nicholas' is thoughtful and realistic. Like "Once Were Warriors,' this film shows old wounds can cause new ones, as male sexual jealousy mixes with alcoholism. The plot isn't original, but its setting is. Director and co-writer Nicholas is alert to nuances.

Transplanted far from conflicts that ravage their homeland, the characters still feel them. Without Serbs to hate, they will hate Maoris or Chinese. Tribalism, in which a group depends for its existence on excluding and hating outsiders, is a universal human trait that has long outlived its usefulness.
Director(s): Gregor Nicholas
Writer(s): Nicholas, Johnana Pigott and Jim Salter
Cast: Rade Servedzija, Aleksandra Vujcic, Julian Arahanga, Marton Csokas, Madeline McNamaraq
Release Date: 1997   
Keyword: Croatian refugee family in New Zealand
Target Age: 15+   Category: war and peace
Documentary: no
Language: English   Reviewer's Name: Micah
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