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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

East of Euclid - review

I was thinking about my love for the film East of Euclid, a great little Winnipeg movie. Visit www.eastofeuclid.com and keep your eyes open for the DVD release. Here's my review.

Originally published in Uptown Magazine

East of Euclid contains everything a Winnipegger could ever want in a film; the North End, perogies, the Golden Boy, and yes, the Winnipeg Jets.

If that’s not enough to get prairie girls and boys interested, how about the old Tribune newspaper, a fortune teller who reads the future in headcheese, and a thug who beats unfortunates with a coil of garlic sausage? Jeff Solylo’s debut feature boasts all these things and more, a dramatic film noir seasoned with great dollops of slapstick, sci-fi, and sour cream.

The film tells the story of Villosh, the best gambler in 1970s Winnipeg. Villosh loves gambling; he gambles for the groceries, for steak dinners, for fur hats. But Villosh is not content with the small-time. Soon he sets his sights on Atlantic City, and in an attempt to raise some big ransom money to fund the greatest gambling trip of his life, Villosh hires the sausage-wielding Betman (Jeff Skinner) to kidnap Finnish hockey player Veli-Pekka Kaurismaki (Miles Boisselle).

Things are going well until the Winnipeg Tribune’s star photographer, Valeri (Brent Neale), takes a photograph of Villosh at a Winnipeg social. Villosh, who is hiding out from the KGB, becomes furious when the photo is published. He attacks Valeri, drawing the photographer and an eager reporter named Natalia (Daina Leitold) into Villosh’s Ukrainian egg of intrigue.

East of Euclid takes a lot of risks, and hits more often than it misses. The Winnipeg- and ethnocentric jokes could run the risk of being alienating, but the humour is broad enough that even the gags that you don’t fully understand are still funny. Also, it helps that the laughs are packed together so tightly—even if you don’t get a joke, you won’t have to wait long until the next one.

The film noir and sci-fi elements are introduced both as parody and to pay homage, and are balanced well against one another, preventing the film from becoming a stale pastiche of genres. While the characters and situations are played for laughs, at the same time a string of dramatic tension holds the action together and a tragic note rings throughout some of the funniest scenes.

This all serves to make the film more than a collection of sight gags, strange situations, and stock characters. When Villosh looks out the window and sighs “the world is my onion!” it’s hilarious but it’s also a rather sad moment. Time is running out for the old gambler, as the fortune teller predicted in the headcheese, and his story is a tragedy as much as it is a comedy.

The film succeeds in places that most comparable films fail. By treating its characters with loving respect, the film is able to exploit them for laughs without turning them into buffoons and making them unsympathetic or dismissable. East of Euclid marks the debut of Jeff Solylo as one of the most imaginative directors in the country.


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