Too pretty to dismiss, but too dull to recommend, Michale Boganim's Odessa... Odessa! looks at the Ukrainian port city of Odessa from three perspectives that vary only in their shades–sometimes literally. Boganim divides the film into three segments, each instantly recognizable by its colors. The first takes place within Odessa, which is presented as a ghost of its former self, a place where everything reflects skies of metallic blue. The second moves to the "Little Odessa" of New York's Brighton Beach, where Russian-Jewish immigrants walk through neighborhoods glowing with a not-quite-healthy orange hue. The final sequence takes place against the blinding white beaches of Ashdod, Israel.
Only Traffic can compete with such an overdetermined color scheme, but Odessa... Odessa! doesn't wear it quite so well. The film settles into a gray zone: It takes the form of a documentary, and it clearly features many non-professional actors (or maybe they're just unskilled professionals), but it doesn't hide its artifice. In the Ashdod sequence, for instance, a street sweeper goes about his task, then spontaneously sits down and begins talking to the camera about the region's history. The camera then pulls back as various street performers start their daily routines. Boganim doesn't claim to be creating a documentary, but the film almost begs for the documentary approach. Every moment suggests that actually talking to these people, or their real-life equivalents, would be more interesting than listening to their scripted, pat-sounding observations about the immigrant experience, no matter how striking the backdrops look. Boganim tries for a lyrical tone, and had she settled for making a short, she might have succeeded in sustaining it. As is, Odessa... Odessa! is a minor-key ballad that thinks it's a symphony.