"Last Dance" movie short speaks of love eternal
December 11, 2009
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-The exotically beautiful brunette danced in the arms of the handsome Soldier, her long wispy green gown flowing, gliding against the legs of his dress blues as they waltzed. Lost in each other's eyes, the coffin and lilies in the background and weeping mourners clad in black don't attract their attention until the end of the song. The lyrics, sung in Polish to a hauntingly sad tune, say in part, "No, no, you cannot go from me, you are taking the last drop of water from me, the emptiness is like a fire in my heart, no, you cannot go away from me, the leaves are still fresh and green, it is not time for them to fall..."
The above scene is taken from a movie short called "Last Dance," and its star, the exquisite brunette, is Margaret Lambos, wife of Capt. George Lambos, who commands Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 100th Missile Defense Brigade, (Ground Based Midcourse Defense) here.
The movie short, as it is called in the business, won the Audience Choice Award at the Chicago International Reel Shorts Festival for 2008. The clip runs 7 minutes, and its viewing typically produces an audience of dampened eyes.
The story, in what almost appears to be a music video but is instead a short, artistic movie, tells of a war widow, Olivia, attending her Soldier husband's funeral with her family, including her adorable blonde toddler. Wearing a long black cape, Olivia is overcome with grief at the sight of her husband, attired in the full glory of his dress blues and laid out in his coffin. She collapses on his chest, after kissing his cold, cold cheek. Her parents rush to her side, and frantically try to resuscitate her.
Meanwhile, stage left, the apparent ghost of Olivia's husband appears, and holds out a hand to the slumped widow. An equally incorporeal but glowing wife stands, shedding her mourning cape, and a lovely pale green gown is revealed. She takes her spouse's strong tanned hand, and they begin to waltz. As they move in time and space, eyes locked, all the other action fades but continues as if in another dimension - the parents weep, the babe appears forlorn.
Finally, after apparently endless moments in each other's arms, the Soldier husband leads his wife back to her still slumped physical form and to their baby. He tenderly kisses her goodbye, and hands her a rose. Lingeringly, their hands part... sadness and loss are evident, but also, joy at the temporary reunion, and trust in the permanent one still to come. And, not least, an abiding, living love in the presence of their little one, to whom he relinquishes her. Olivia wakens, her parents rejoice, she kisses her infant, and walks down the church's aisle, with her face buried in a mysterious rose. Fade to black...
Margaret, a native of Poland, speaks English with an attractive accent reminiscent of her homeland. The acting job came about in the following fashion: she had been friends with the sister of the director, Aleksandra Hodowany, since her college days back in 1991. The sister, also named Margaret, knew that Margaret Lambos excelled in ballroom dancing and choreography, and, aware that her sister was working on a project called "Last Dance," featuring ballroom dancing, suggested her friend for the choreography and dancing. As fate would have it Aleksandra, also a good friend of Margaret Lambos, was already thinking the exact same thing!
Hodwany sent the lyrics of the song to multiple choreographers, keeping her script private, seeking a choreographer who would come closest to her own vision intuitively. She said that many of the other choreographers produced visions of separating lovers. But to Margaret, the sad lyrics, which in the movie are sung by Polish singer Grazyna Auguscik, spoke of a loss greater than that suffered in day to day living.
"To me, as a military wife, and in today's world where we are surrounded by sad images of that terrible knock on the door, my mind immediately went to that permanent loss, where the husband doesn't come home again. And I imagined how wonderful it would be, though still in a sad and tragic way, if the wife were able to have that one last dance with her husband, to say goodbye. I got goosebumps and teared up just thinking about it," said Margaret.
When she explained her vision to Aleksandra, she elicited almost the same reaction. The director's script, held closely secret, had followed a path very similar, except that the deceased civilian husband had died of natural causes. Seeing the great pathos and timeliness of making the hero of her movie a Soldier, the story from then on featured the military focus.
The resultant short, as previously mentioned, dampened eyes and won the prestigious Audience Choice Award. Speaking of dampened eyes, Margaret had worried that, when it came time to cry in the movie, she would be unable to do so on demand. Turned out, she needn't have fretted.
"Once we were there, in that church, with the actor playing my husband in his dress blues, the atmosphere made the magic happen. Not only did I cry, in fact I bawled like a baby! They had to fix my makeup, and in fact, almost everyone else in the place, the other actors and the technicians, they also cried. Even the monk who took care of the church we were filming in cried!"
The church was actually the Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica which survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and is no longer an active church. Its baroque architecture is an appropriate backdrop for the romantic, dramatic film short.
The director, who lives in Chicago, is very passionate about her product. She has been making films since she was 19, and is now in her early 30s. She considers this piece her best and most heartfelt to date. There's a reason beyond the obvious for that.
"I lost a fiancAfA to death when I was much younger. You never quite get over that, but I wanted to make this film to somehow express my belief that there will be an eventual reunion, and that the spirit and love do go on. That is why I originally conceived of the husband as being a civilian. But, when Margaret came up with the military notion, it almost immediately clicked. At first, I was a bit afraid that perhaps enough people wouldn't identify with the military part of it, but she rightfully convinced me that,
with our nation at war, yes, people would empathize," said Hodowany.
"I had tried filming this before, with other actors and with my earlier vision, and we had it situated in a funeral home. I have to say, it was terrible. It just did not convey what I wanted it to, so I sort of gave up on the project for awhile. But then, when we thought of Margaret for the part, and she came up with her wonderful concept, everything started to click.
"We did have a little difficulty finding a uniform to fit our handsome male
star, Mark Nillson, who, brawny and tall at 6'2", is not a standard size.
But once that happened, it was almost like a miracle, like pieces of a puzzle. I was still worried about the venue, then, the singer of the song, Grazyna, called me very excited to say she had just given a concert in a so beautiful church, and the priest had told her we could do our film there! It was perfect. And the chemistry between Mark and Margaret was immediate - I really felt this version of our film was meant to be. I say "our" because any film is a collaborative process, and this so truly was exactly that.
"I am so grateful that this film is touching people's lives. I know that the making of it has touched mine, and everyone else's that was involved in its production. As another example of it being meant to be," Hodowany said with a chuckle in her voice, "it just recently became available for viewing by the public at this website:
The Lambos couple is justifiably proud of the piece, especially the husband part of the team.
"I thought Margaret had just gone to help a friend with a video that had some ballroom dancing in it. When I saw the finished product I was blown away. I was not prepared for the emotional aspect or the professionalism of the film. I appreciate the tribute to military families and the message. I am very proud that Margaret was able to participate and I have an admiration for the high quality of work and effort by Aleksandra," said Lambos.
For her part, Margaret said, "Well, first off, of course it was a big honor just to be asked to choreograph the dancing. At first, I didn't understand that they wanted me to do the dancing as well, so when I figured that part out, I was doubly honored. But most importantly, when I was allowed to have the impact of putting the military flavor and emotions into it, I was very proud. My friends and family who have watched it have said their respect for the military and the spouses have grown immeasurably since viewing it. I think it really does send a message of hope that, despite the terrible tragedy of losing a husband or a wife, these widows or widowers and children will survive. It is a wonderful thought that perhaps, somehow, they could get that opportunity to say that last goodbye, and to know that they will meet again."
Anyone viewing "Last Dance," especially those affiliated with the military, and even more so in these days of a nation at war on two fronts, can empathize with its message of love lasting beyond death... and eventual reunion. The Lambos and Hodowany families have helped spread that message of hope. And now... I have also had that privilege.