"Funny to be called a newcomer at 40," said Pawel Pawlikowski at the 2001 BAFTAs on winning the Carl Foreman Award for the most promising new directing, writing, or producing talent in British cinema. True, he has been around for a long time as a documentarist, but this is his first feature, and it is, in spite of tight budgetary constraints, a remarkably thoughtful and disturbing work.
Tanya, his leading character (Dina Korzun) is a single mother who arrives at Gatwick from Russia with her 10-year-old son, expecting to settle with her English fiancé. He is not at the airport and has in fact dumped her. In desperate confusion she applies for asylum. Locked in the dead embrace of bureaucracy, she is shunted to a grim seaside tower block, where she is expected to wait out for many months while her application is considered. Escapees are swiftly caught on surveillance cameras and threatened with relocation to a regular jail. Then, prodded by her son, she makes friends with an amusement arcade worker (Paddy Considine) who is attracted to her and does his best to make her bleak life more palatable. He is dismayed when she attempts to earn money posing for an Internet pornographer.
Although some may see this film as a post-Orwellian attack on civic oppression, officialdom is portrayed as neither inhumane or overwhelmingly considerate. It is simply wedded to inexorable procedures. There is no finite neatness in a Hollywood sense, but a lack of conclusion which is entirely deliberate because that is how life so often is. Tanya is not from the subjugated poor, but the Russian bourgeoisie (she was a children's book illustrator in Russia). Nevertheless she is still an asylum victim, and her plight is movingly examined from her point of view.