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Year: 2003
USA: New Yorker Films
UK: Metrodome Distribution
Cast: Romen Avinian, Lala Sarkissian, Ivan Franek, Ruzan Mesropyan, Zahal Karielachvili
Director: Hiner Saleem
Countries: France / Armenia / Italy
Languages: Armenian / Russian / Kurdish (English subtitles)
USA: 88 mins
UK: 89 mins
UK Certificate: PG contains mild violence, sex references and language
USA Release Date: 8 October 2004 (Limited Release)
UK Release Date: 24 September 2004


In the snowy badlands of post soviet Armenia, village life is nearing subsistence level. The Russians have long departed (along with their subsidies), and almost all of the villages young men have gone abroad for work. In the heart of sixty-something year old Hamo, a handsome widower living with his alcoholic oldest son and his beautiful granddaughter, hope rests through his youngest son, who has recently immigrated to France in search of work. Hamo's sole possessions on earth - seven dollars a month for military pension, an old armoire, a broken soviet television set and his military suit - are barely enough to sustain him, leaving the grizzled patriarch to spend his days awaiting word—and money—from Paris.

Biding time, Hamo finds contentment through his daily bus trips to the local cemetery where his wife has been laid to rest. It's during one of these visits that Hamo notices Nina, a beautiful fifty-year old widow who, like Hamo, is struggling to survive the harsh conditions of life in the village following the loss of her husband. Although an initial attraction between the two is clear, Hamo's loyalty to his dead wife and Nina's shyness forestalls the two from allowing the sparks to fly. Nina retreats to her job at the desolate village bar, Vodka Lemon, and Hamo hustles home with hope waning that his son in Paris has mailed him. The letter does in fact arrive but the money Hamo is so desperate for isn't included. Retreating back to the cemetery, Hamo once again runs into Nina and with a few kind gestures the two begin a September-December romance that will lead to the film's indelible conclusion: a Chagall-like vision of love among the ruins.

Winner of the San Marco prize at the Venice Film Festival, VODKA LEMON is a bittersweet concoction with a kick. As one character says, the only thing the Russians have left them is the one thing they didn't have before—their freedom. The miracle of VODKA LEMON, the third feature by exiled Iraqi Kurd director Hiner Saleem, is that this portrait of an abandoned community is so magically upbeat. With its stunning, blinding-white vistas, its lovely Armenian score, and its Iosseliani-esque whimsy, the film celebrates its quirky characters at the same time that it mourns their plight.

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