In Kolya’s memory of his father in “Luxembourg, Luxembourg,” he was capable of a stopping a train, standing in front of it and firing off a gun to slow it to a crawl before ultimately stopping at his feet. This isn’t some fantasizing on the part of the young man, twenty years removed from when he and his brother Vasya last saw their dad, but recalling how much power he once held in the Ukrainian city of Lubny where he became a local underground legend before leaving and rarely mentioned again. Still, in Antonio Lukich’s amusing tale of siblings who took very different paths in life, the father still takes up plenty of real estate in the minds of Kolya and Vasya, who since devoted himself to becoming a police officer to get men like his dad off the streets, and though he isn’t coming back to town, word travels that he’s in his dying days in Germany, where at least Kolya would like to say his final goodbyes.
The set-up may sound like it’s been done before, but it actually acts as a bit of a trojan horse for Lukich, who is less interested in reunifying the brothers than exploring how the lack of a father figure divided them. While this wouldn’t seem to be the obvious premise for a zippy comedy, the writer/director can’t help but find the humor in how ridiculous it is that the identical twins have forged such different lives with Vasya eager to score a promotion to detective status while Kolya struggles to make the rounds as a van driver for senior citizens, a job he only has because of one of the old-timers who still remembers his dad. If not for a call from the Consulate of Ukraine in Luxembourg, the brothers’ paths likely would not cross again, but when Kolya is the one to answer the phone, he panics enough about hearing his father is in critical condition following an accident for Vasya to be roped in by their mother to help calm him down.
Travel to Luxembourg would seem out of the question, not just because of Vasya’s resistance, but the increasingly fraught legal status of Kolya, who has the misfortune of upsetting the person who takes passport photos and subsequently gets himself into trouble with the law after accidentally pulling away his van while a bread factory worker attempts to get on, leaving her with two broken arms and him with an ankle bracelet. Would having a father around changed much? Lukich makes that prospect seem unlikely, but the “what if” plagues both brothers as Kolya knows his deeply religious mother’s prayers haven’t worked and has no other compass to go by and Vasya would appear to overcompensate when it comes to avoiding his father’s footsteps, leading his wife Masha to complain about when he’ll get his head out of police work for long enough to take her and their one-year-old for a beach day.
Although they might not be having too much fun, Lukich makes sure the audience is, keeping “Luxembourg, Luxembourg” running at a snappy clip with some particularly wily cinematography from Misha Lubarsky where the right zoom or angle really brings a punchline home. The real-life Nasirov twins were blessed with faces for tragicomedy that Lukich employs to its full extent and despite the film having no shortage of loopy humor, it has a sense of where it’s going far more than Vasya and Koyla ever could, perhaps exploring why absence makes the heart grow fonder but inevitably leaving one’s heart full.
“Luxembourg, Luxembourg” will screen again at the Venice Film Festival on September 8th at 3:15 pm at the PalaBiennale and will next screen at the Toronto Film Festival at the Scotiabank on September 9th at 9:15 pm, September 13th at 2:30 pm and September 16th at 9:15 pm and will be available virtually in Canada beginning on September 16th through the end of the festival.