‘Meet Me in Montenegro’ opens Friday at Alamo Lakeline

Lineea Saasen and Alex Holdridge, the writers and stars of "Meet Me in Montenegro."
Linnea Saasen and Alex Holdridge, the writers and stars of “Meet Me in Montenegro.”

“Meet Me in Montenegro,” the new movie from former Austinite Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen is opening this Friday at the Alamo Lakeline.

We didn’t get notified of its release until late Wednesday, and that was past our deadline for publishing a print review. But I’m reposting the original story about the movie. It ran in Austin360 last Sunday.

The movie is quite charming, and it’s perfect romantic summer fare. It’ll have one show each night at the Lakeline theater for at least the next week. So if you get a chance, you should check it out. Here’s the story.
Austinites who are familiar with screenwriter and director Alex Holdridge are in for a treat. His new movie, “Meet Me in Montenegro,” gives us a glimpse into his life after his 2008 critical success, “In Search of a Midnight Kiss.” And it’s quite a story.

As many film buffs know, he left Austin for Los Angeles after winning awards for “Sexless” at the 2003 South by Southwest Film Festival, with friends telling him, “You’ll never have to wait tables again!”

But adjusting to Hollywood was an up-and-down affair, with lots of meetings and projects that never came to fruition, until the ultra-low-budget “Midnight Kiss.” That led to an offer for Holdridge, a University of Texas graduate, to direct his first studio movie. But before production began, he took a trip to Berlin, where he met art student Linnea Saasen at a café.

There was an immediate spark, he says, “but I thought she was in a relationship with another guy, so it was all friendly at first. And then I learned she wasn’t in a relationship, and I was like, ‘Great!’ But I was leaving the next day, and I did actually go back to Los Angeles. But then she sent me this text that said, ‘Hey, you want to take a train down to the Balkans?’ ”

“I didn’t think he’d say yes,” Saasen says.

But Holdridge says he “was going from meeting to meeting back in LA, and it wasn’t where I wanted to be mentally, and there she was, so interesting, and I was falling for her. The winds had shifted, and I could sense nothing was going to happen in LA, so I wrote her back and said ‘I’m there.’”

Their relationship is the basis for “Meet Me in Montenegro,” which Holdridge and Saasen wrote and directed, starring Holdridge as the disillusioned but hopeful filmmaker Anderson, who thinks he’ll be returning to the United States for a studio film, and Saasen as the dance student Lina, who has received a grant and thinks she will be moving to Amsterdam. Both eventually learn that their projects have fallen through.

And when the same thing happened to Holdridge and Saasen, they came up with an idea: Why not make a movie based on a couple of people who fall in love, have the professional rugs pulled out from underneath them, and then decide to make a movie about their experience?

“This was a labor of love,” says Holdridge, who visited Austin recently with Saasen for an Austin Film Society screening hosted by director Richard Linklater, a longtime friend. “We eked the movie out over four years in five countries living out of backpacks.” They had help from their friends, of course, including the director of photography, Robert Murphy, who would film them in various locales at various times.

And they also had help from London-based musical director Stephen Coates, who wrote many of the songs for the film and who founded band the Real Tuesday Weld in 1999 after dreaming of 1940s British crooner Al Bowlly and American actress Tuesday Weld. Coates “was doing it for the love of it,” Holdridge says. “We couldn’t pay him much. But it helps the movie so much. He’s a great guy.”

Even with such help, Holdridge says they “were flat broke” when they moved back to Berlin after filming.

Then they got a pleasant surprise. “Montenegro” was accepted into the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, and even better, after its premiere, it was picked up for theatrical distribution by the Orchard.

Although inspired by their lives, Holdridge and Saasen say “Montenegro” has many fictional elements. And the movie doesn’t just focus on them. It also includes another Berlin couple, played by Rupert Friend and Jennifer Ulrich, whose relationship appears to be headed in the wrong direction: They’re contemplating going to a swingers club.

The movie has a distinct Linklater vibe, reminiscent of “Before Sunrise,” and it’s full of romantic twists and humor, as well as lots of lying to save face.

“I think it’s very much in our nature to lie about things,” says Saasen. “With all of the social media, with Instagram, you get this idea of people leading a perfect life, and you know that’s not real life. So people lie all the time. We’re afraid of any failure.”

Holdridge says he sees the movie as being “about failure and still having the nerve to go for it.” And with all the twists and turns in Los Angeles and his moviemaking life, “Meet Me in Montenegro” is a remarkable achievement, uniquely ambitious, low-budget but lushly filmed, and full of touching performances.

After the recent screening in Austin, Linklater said he loved “the feel of this movie so much because I felt the joy of creation. There’s an incredible freedom to it.”

The movie is already available on demand and through iTunes, and it’s expected to open in Austin theaters in the coming weeks.

After their visit to Austin, Holdridge and Saasen were headed to Los Angeles to discuss future projects. But if those meetings don’t produce any funding or guarantees, it’s clear that Holdridge and Saasen will continue to make movies. They have a knack for it, even if it isn’t easy.

Author: Charles Ealy

Charles Ealy edits and writes about books and movies for the Ausstin American-Statesman.

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