Naive young mother Tanya and her street-wise nine year-old son Artiom arrive at Stansted airport, and are swiftly targeted by immigration officials as a suspicious case. She is hoping to be met by Mark, an Englishman she met in Moscow whom she expects to marry. But there's no sign of him in the arrivals lounge, and only an answering machine at home ...

Threatened with deportation back to Moscow, Tanya desperately claims political asylum. She and Artiom find themselves herded into vans with other refugees and driven under police escort to the half-dead seaside resort of Stonehaven: a bleak, grey hell, and a holding area for those claiming asylum.

Tanya immediately tries to find out what has happened to Mark. But even a phone-call is a trial in Stonehaven - nothing seems to work, and it's only with the help of arcade manager Alfie that she manages to get through - again, just his answer-phone. Alfie is immediately struck with Tanya, but although she's glad of a friendly face, all she wants to do is get out. Which, it turns out, isn't possible. There are no trains out of Stonehaven, and when she and Artiom try climbing a fence, the police arrest them in minutes. She, and a bunch of other would-be escapees, are thrown in a cell and told that this is their last chance. On release from the cell, Tanya finally manages to get hold of Mark. Only to hear that he doesn't want to see her.

Now with no reason to stay, Tanya wants to get back to Russia. But bureaucratic procedures will keep her there for months if she wants to get officially deported - unless she's able to pay for her own ticket out. Alfie, who's struck up a friendship with Artiom, tries to persuade her just to wait - it's not such a bad place after all. But she's determined. So determined that she takes the only route available to her to earn some money. Les, an internet pornographer, has already approached her about modelling, and she decides to take him up on it. But when the crunch comes, she's unable to strip on camera. She breaks down and cries.

As Artiom falls in with young Katy and her gang, a bunch of local tear-away kids, Alfie does his best to forge a relationship with Tanya. They go out and get drunk together, and as they share snippets of their past with each other, they find themselves growing closer. Tanya is an intensely romantic woman, driven constantly to be in love with someone, and she is drawn to Alfie. Dancing to Downtown in a deserted bingo hall, the two finally kiss, and he then walks her home like a gentleman.

But Alfie's joy is shattered the next day. He is helping Artiom hang a picture in the flat when Les appears, wanting to pay Tanya for her work. She does her best to shrug it off, but Alfie is well aware of what Les does for a living. He leaves in a rage, and Artiom storms out too, disgusted with his mother. He finds Katy and gets horribly drunk with her, while Tanya walks the nightmarish streets, looking for her son. And Alfie meanwhile has broken in to Les' studio, vandalised it and beaten up the man himself.

The next morning, he finds Artiom slumped in a stupor on the pavement. He carries him home to Tanya. Seeing this family beginning to fall apart, and knowing he can't stay in Stonehaven either, Alfie offers to help them escape. Braving searchlights and guard-dogs, the three creep into the harbour and steal aboard a tiny sailboat. But as they break out into the open sea, Alfie knows that he may be helping Tanya leave his life forever. When they arrive on shore, and whilst Artiom is sleeping Tanya and Alfie finally consummate their love for each other. They make love passionately. In the cool light of the next morning, Tanya must decide whether she will stay with this man, or else leave love behind for once and take Artiom back home to Russia...

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski

Written by: Pawel Pawlikowski

Produced by: Ruth Caleb

Cinematography: Ryszard Lenczewski

Editing: David Charap

Production Design: Tom Bowyer

Costume Design: Julian Day

Original Score: Max de Wardener

Cast: Dina Korzun (Tanya), Artyom Strelnikov (Artiom), Paddy Considine (Alfie)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Discovery of the Year - Fassbinder Award  2001
  • Feature Film Selection 2001