Import Export

Pub date February 10, 2009
WriterMatt Sussman

REVIEW E.M. Forster’s plea to "only connect" is given a scathing work-over in Ulrich Siedel’s Import Export, which makes its U.S. theatrical premiere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Siedel provides more displays of our species capacity for spite, indifference, and brutality than all the Saw films combined, though nary a drop of blood soils the screen. Siedel has no need for Rube Goldbergian gore machines — the chips dealt by the fall of the USSR to the residents of the Ukraine, now parasitically exploited by its wealthier Western neighbors, are enough. That the film’s title coldly describes the movement of goods and services as well as the cross-border trajectories of its two main characters is no accident: no attempt at empathy or conscientiousness on their part goes un-snuffed under the grind of capitalism. Olga, a pretty Ukrainian nurse who makes money on the side working as a webcam girl, heads to Austria hoping to improve her lot in life. After being fired as an au pair, she winds up working as a cleaning lady in an eldercare facility, where she tentatively attempts to befriend the bedridden patients who are treated no better than used furniture. Olga’s narrative is intercut with that of Pauli, a muscled Austrian hood who aspires to become a security guard but winds up helping his lecherous father-in-law deliver outmoded gaming machines to Ukrainian housing blocks after being humiliated on-duty by a gang of toughs. None of this is easy viewing, and there are several moments — particularly with the elderly cast members who appear to be truly mentally ill — when one wonders if Siedel is in some way contributing to the grotesqueness he’s setting out to document. It is a question perhaps only answered by repeated viewings. That is, if you have the stomach for it.

IMPORT EXPORT plays Thurs/12–Sat/14 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. See Rep Clock.