Veit Helmer made quite a splash with his directorial debut "Tuvalu" - because he was actually delivering a love letter to cinema itself.
Set in a crumbling grand old bathhouse on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, youngest son Anton works as an apprentice to his father-owner. There are hardly customers these days, and even those who arrive are too poor to afford the baths, often paying with buttons for entry. But Anton goes out of his way to make his blind father believe that the bathhouse is continuing to do roaring trade. The scheming eldest son Gregor however, is keen to bring it down in order to sell the land for redevelopment. Anton had also been letting homeless people use the baths as a refuge, and it is through them that he meets young Eva and her down-on-luck sailor-dad, after they get evicted from their own dilapidated property. The heart of the bathhouse is an enormous vintage boiler-pump made by 'Imperial', the same manufacturer for the motors used in the non-seaworthy tugboat that Eva's father owns. If only she could find a replacement part for the motor, Eva, along her father, could set off to Tuvalu (to which the film title alludes). Meanwhile Anton had fallen in love with Eva, and it appears the feeling is initially mutual, until Eva's father unexpectedly dies. Eva mistakenly blames Anton for his death, and inadvertently ends up helping Gregor sabotage the bathhouse. Will Anton overcome his agoraphobia to seek and convince Eva of his noble intentions and reiterate his true feelings for her - only time will tell...
This beautiful gem has so many talking points that I'm lost as to where to begin. For a start, the film is stunningly captured in black and white film, and painstakingly tinted in different tones to capture the mood of the scene and location. The sound track is stunning, and barely two dozen mono-syllable (but universally common) words are actually spoken - it is, for all intents and purposes, a silent film. It pays homage to silent-cinema by liberally borrowing some of the iconic motifs from its classics. The pulse of the film however is strongly reminiscent of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's French classic "Delicatessen", even if it is nowhere as dark a plot. With its decaying walls imposing a feel of fading grandeur, its wall and floor tiles incessantly falling off one by one with each rain, Helmer had used a melancholic backdrop against which the most charming of romances between Anton and Eva unfolds.
The film, while not surreal as some tend to think, is allegorical, and almost every scene of the film can be seen and interpreted from a different angle, thanks also to its lack of any discernible dialogues. What is apparent however, is its unabashed celebration of cinema itself. Some of the images will stick with you long after you put the DVD away - including a magnificent underwater scene where Eva (played by the adorable Chulpan Khamatova) is seen playing with her pet goldfish, in the nude. There is brilliant slapstick comedy from Denis Lavant and Terence Gillespie who play Anton and Gregor respectively, a silly romance, and nightmarish drama, all paying homage to one or the other landmark moment from silent cinema. Needless to say, this rare and beautifully-formed gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon.de DVD Link
The Nudity: Chulpan Khamatova
There are two scenes that feature nudity from the cute Chulpan Khamatova - the first, at the showers, is charming and funny, while the second is not only charming, but also beautiful, as Eva plays with her pet goldfish in a bowl, inside a swimming pool.