Elvis Martini (Nickola Shreli) is on a really bad streak. He is in court because he's behind on his mortgage for his rental apartment and the bank wants to foreclose. Luckily the Judge gives him an extension to try to piece the funds together. Most of his tenants are behind on their rent. The ones that pay are constantly at him to fix items that are broken in their units. His daughter Lena is at home playing video games all day because he is behind on payments to the Albanian religious school. He owes the community loan shark $10,000 and to top it off he regularly listens to the last phone message from his wife who died accidentally in a fire that he caused.
Despite all of his issues Nickola manages to keep a calm demeanour as he attempts to find a way out of the hole. His first move is to step up the presser on the renters. Rolexa (Maia Noni) who has a son about Lena's age works the streets at night and is $1800 behind in her rent. Nickola decides to evict, changes her locks and finds a stash of cash in her apartment that he confiscates. He is oblivious to her threats when she comes banging on his door looking to get back into her apartment. Nickola uses the new found wealth to pay down on some of his debts then gets an ominous call from someone looking to get into Rolexa's apartment to recover something that was left there.
Director Malik Bader does an excellent job of making the dilapidated city of Detroit a major character in the film. Bader shows that its rundown, dark, bland and cold emphasizing that the citizens hanging on to the lower rungs of society are potentially Nickola's tenants. Elvis Martini is also the writer of the story. It's a narrative he knows well having been an apartment landlord in Detroit. The story moves along at a measured pace introducing fully formed characters as tenants in the building or members of the Detroit Albanian community. The script features card games in the local Albanian Social club, outdoor hard liquor parties to celebrate an impending wedding and the community church leader offering words of wisdom or a blessing for good luck to citizens.
The story shifts to a higher level when the ominous voice, Dino (Stivi Paskoski) takes something precious to Elvis that will only be returned in exchange for the stolen money plus interest and tax. Elvis has to use all of his creative powers to raise the money and decide ethically how far he is willing to go to make the deal. The build up to and the exchange provides the most intense moments on film this year.
Cash Only is a slow build intense drama that achieves a red hot burn in the closing segments. The viewer's imagination will get away from them as their eyes sweep the screen contemplating the multiple options available to inflict punishment on the protagonist. The narrative flows smartly and the cast comfortable with the Albanian-American experience. It's a hard piece but a film that I highly recommend.
**** Out of 4
Cash Only | Malik Bader | U.S.A. / Albania | 2015 | 91 minutes.
Tags; Landlord, Detroit, Albania, Loan, Rent, Dog Fighting, Ransom, Eviction, Balkan.