Friday May 2, 1997
The casting director working on Gregor Nicholas' interracial love story "Broken English" spotted Aleksandra Vujcic, the young woman who would become the film's co-star, in an Auckland, New Zealand, bar. It was a good break for Vujcic, who didn't mind giving up her receptionist's job, and an even better break for Nicholas.
Vujcic not only had the dark good looks Nicholas was looking for but, in a stroke of sensational luck, she shared her character's Croatian background and brought cultural and experiential detail to the role--not to mention a natural accent--that helped refine the script.
The result of the collaboration is a terrific film and a stunning debut by Vujcic, who brings a wrenching honesty to this story of a Croatian New Zealand woman's attempt to follow her heart without losing her family.
Vujcic plays Nina, the youngest of three children of a New Zealand mother and a Croatian father, a family that has survived the war in the Balkans and moved to Auckland to start a new life. Her father, Ivan (Rade Serbedzija), and her brother, Darko (Marton Csokas), have started their own business--selling drugs--while she's waiting tables at a Chinese restaurant.
It's there that Nina meets Eddie (Julian Arahanga), a Maori cook, and their mutual attraction develops into an immediately passionate romance. The problem: Dad is a bullying racist who doesn't want his daughter dating anyone, let alone a Maori, and though she's legally adult, Nina doesn't have the resources to strike out on her own.
So, she grasps at the one solution presenting itself and agrees to marry the fiance of a Chinese co-worker to make him a New Zealand citizen, and uses the money they pay her to buy a car and set up housekeeping with Eddie. All of which infuriates Nina's father and puts her lover and her family on a violent collision course.
Vujcic, Arahanga and Serbedzija, a major star in the former Yugoslavia, give strongly emotional performances in a film that Nicholas has staged with a bluntness that caused embarrassed Hollywood censors to slap an adults-only NC-17 label on it.
The official reason accompanying the rating is "explicit sexuality," but it's no more explicit than that in numerous R-rated films. Could it be that the raters are making a racial statement of their own?
In any event, the NC-17's a shame, because this is the kind of movie--dealing honestly with issues facing people every day on this shrinking planet--that thoughtful parents might want their children to see. At least, it ought to be their choice.
Broken English, 1997. NC-17, for explicit sexuality. A Gregor Nicholas Film, released by Sony Pictures Classics. Director Gregor Nicholas. Producer Robin Scholes. Executive producer Timothy White. Screenplay by Gregor Nicholas, Johanna Pigott, Jim Salter. Cinematographer John Toon. Editor David Coulson. Music Murray Grindlay, Murray McNabb. Production design Mike Kane. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Rade Serbedzija as Ivan. Aleksandra Vujcic as Nina. Julian Arahanga as Eddie. Marton Csokas as Darko. Madeline McNamara as Mira.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times