Louder Than Bombs

Beautiful People is a playful romp through an emotional minefield.

Beautiful People
"You are here to heal, so start healing!" announces a plucky nurse (Linda Bassett) to a grumbling trio of wounded men convalescing under her care in a crowded London hospital room. Dramatically, the scene marks as good a place as any to focus on Jasmin Dizdar's heartful, complex, and truly delightful debut feature, Beautiful People. Thematically, however, the line is a perfect summation of the film's elements, which seem, at first, utterly arbitrary. Charting the evolution of a score of wounded and dislodged souls -- mainly Bosnian refugees flung hither and thither among stalwart Brits -- the story unfolds in disjointed episodes, arriving less as a linear narrative than as a grand mosaic, composed of violent surprises and, more potently, of gentle gestures.

The assembly of these fragments (and fragmented lives) proves to be a stimulating undertaking, as Dizdar has drawn up a robust mob to interact with one another, including two bitter enemies, a Serb (Dado Jehan) and a Croat (Faruk Pruti), who open the movie by recognizing each another on a bus. A tiny riot ensues, as the men scramble through London's chaotic streets bent on mutual obliteration. Their efforts land them, much the worse for wear, in adjoining beds in the aforementioned hospital, where their continued antagonism is attended by a third party, a burned Welsh firebomber (Nicholas McGaughey). The Welshman is as proud of his folksinging as he is of the 20 English holiday cottages he's reduced to ashes back in his homeland. It's an ingenious microcosm, especially when the men discover a common affinity for incendiary devices.

Enflamed via different means is Tory-bred intern Portia (Charlotte Coleman), who falls rather swiftly in love with Pero (Edin Dzandzanovic), a Bosnian refugee. The hapless fellow's confusion sends him headlong into injury, but he awakens, enamored, at the receiving end of her soup spoon. Like all of the film's threads, this romance moves very quickly, but the actors' guileless eyes render it quite credible. Why would a well-to-do British woman from a dreadfully stodgy family fall for a no-account immigrant laid out flat on his back? Why wouldn't she? the film seems to say, and it's easy enough to go with that flow.

Beautiful People is anything but a "heavy" movie, and its wry tone proves very satisfying, even in tandem with some of the movie's other horrific plot devices. The film splays out in countless unexpected directions, and Dizdar's ambition would have produced a cinematic train wreck if it weren't for the ingenious human touches he employs to connect all these disparate souls. The movie is deftly delivered and free of gratuitous gloss, yet enormously rich in its unassuming manner. Above all, it's a valuable document of displacement and reintegration, a true compassion infusion, and ultimately, a celebration.

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