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Centre of My World is the coming of age story of Phil.
Phil is a young, gay man who lives with his single mother, Glass (that’s actually her name) and twin sister Diana. Phil has been away for some time over the summer and has found that all is not right within his once happy family unit. However, the answers he searches for constantly elude him, as he is distracted by an attractive young man he meets in class. What follows is a series of joy, laughter, misery and heartbreak as Phil’s world is unravelled as he faces the realities and tough choices of life.
From the get go I will mention that this film is a German/Austrian production and the cast speaks German throughout it. If subtitled films are a struggle for you then this film isn’t really going to change your mind on the matter. Because of the foreign language I find it hard to gage the acting in Centre of My World. I can’t tell if they are emoting the words as well I can an English language performance. But, from body language and facial expressions alone, I thought that the acting was actually pretty good. All across the board I could at least feel the emotion of the characters throughout the film, even if I wasn’t really hearing the emotions as well.
But while the performances do make their characters more interesting, I found the actual characters and characterisations to be really lacking. Most of them are blank slates or one-dimensional. Interesting events happen around them, and even because of them, but none of it really builds on the characters themselves. Except for Phil, but Phil as a character wasn’t the most interesting either. He starts out as an innocent, and somewhat naive optimist, and ends as just an optimist. This does work well with the film’s theme of lost innocents, but it’s also a character we have seen one too many times before. The story doesn’t help out much either, with the plot basically being the sequence of events that are driven by the characters. And even then, it feels muddled and unfocused.
I could split this film into three equal sections. There’s the section when Phil is an adult, and either with his mother, sister or lover. Then there’s the section when Phil and his sister are children. And then there are these strange and out of nowhere segments where the film goes a more arty route, and will give us a montage of silent images with some music, narration or both playing over them. And not a single one of these sections gel together. The adult and child sections are both fine in their own right. But together and with the way they edited, they feel at odds with some clashes of tone. Although, oddly enough the child section is darker than the lighter adult section. But it is that third section that is completely at odds with the rest of the film. It’s almost like watching This Is England, and then bringing in scenes from Trainspotting at random intervals. Also, at nearly two-hours long Centre of My World is just too long a film, feeling very drawn out in the middle.
With that being said, the directing and cinematography of these individual scenes is spot on. Director Jakob M. Erwa knows how to set up the perfect shot for what he aims to show his audience. The colours are always exactly what they need to be. He appears to have a good grasp on how to handle his cast. He makes the best of his sets and wastes nothing visually. However, the music does feel out of place when it plays at most points. Especially in the more arty montage segments. But, mastering the visuals of a film is nothing to be snuffed at. He has almost a Danny Boyle way of using his visuals to tell his story. It wouldn’t surprise me if Boyle was an inspiration of his. I can even see the more emotional moments, especially in the revelation scenes, really striking people. Although I personally couldn’t enjoy these moments because of how unfocused I felt the film as a whole was.
I have no trouble seeing why people could like, or even love Centre of My World. But in the end I am not one of them. Great visuals and some effective emotional moments just can’t save an unfocused story with pretty bland characters for me.
If you don’t mind subtitles and are interesting in the visual arts or simple want a purely emotion driven narrative then I’d recommend it to you. Otherwise, we still have other coming of age stories to enjoy.
Centre Of My World hits cinemas on 15th September.