‘Highway to Hell’
It can be argued that Britain, more than any time since the 1960’s, is once again a major centre for international film production. With the next instalments of the Star Wars franchise being shot in the UK, and generous tax breaks for studios seeking to base their productions here, it seems the British film industry couldn’t be healthier.
Yet however keen those like George Osborne are to lure big blockbuster investment to our shores, it’s important that we don’t ignore domestic talent. The British cinematic voice can be more than Sex Lives of the Potato Men, or the latest ‘Martin-Freeman-plays-affable-loser’ vehicle.
With that it mind, it’s lucky that production companies out there like the Broke But Making Films collective, led by Director Greg Hall, are willing to take risks with unconventional films. And despite being billed as a “revenge thriller” and “a roller coaster of adventure” in the press release, their latest offering COMMUNION is fairly unconventional.
A rough sketch of the plot doesn’t do much to suggest this; Rogue priest Father Clemence, plagued by as-yet unrevealed demons from his past, embarks on a road trip through the English countryside to resolve these issues, with the occasional rest-stop to duff up ‘ner-do-wells with a rounders bat. In one such encounter he meets and reluctantly teams up with Maria, a backpacking Mexican punk. So far, so Jason Statham.
On viewing, however, COMMUNION has much more in common with something like Scandinavian indie’s mixture of incident and introspection. Flashbacks and subliminal jump-cutting blur our sense of time, and Father Clemence seems to inhabit a pastoral but unchanging rural purgatory. The violence is realistic, brief but frenetic, thanks to some nifty editing, but these scenes punctuate much longer stretches of exposition. The fractured narrative and lack of reference points becomes an effective way to place the viewer on Father Clemence’s wavelength.
Paul Marlon plays Clemence as a cypher for the first third of the film, a monosyllabic man whose motives remain unknown. He manages to give his character an air of clammy menace, and to the end we are kept guessing whether the priest’s true character is altogether more sinister.
With that in mind, it’s worth mentioning that whilst he is the protagonist, I never really found myself ‘rooting’ for Father Clemence in the conventional sense. His acts of violence, though mostly directed at deserving targets, are a bit too random. The moral ambiguity of seeming genuinely unhinged helps to keep the audience off balance, and ratchets up the tension.
Its not far into its running time that film introduces a counterpoint to the brooding Clemence. Ana Gonzalez Bello’s like-able and assured performance as Maria, punk and moral centre of COMMUNION, was what I most enjoyed in the film. Bello manages to make scenes which might have otherwise been heavy-handed more naturalistic, and Maria’s un-judgemental attitude towards Father Clemence helps to keep us on his side.
COMMUNION is not without its faults. It takes the first fifteen minutes for the film to really hit its stride, and the initial scene in a country pub, where a trio of racist yokels get the rounders-bat treatment, is depicted in pretty broad strokes. Some may also object to the vigilante violence, and claim that the film is presenting this as a justifiable response to racism, yobs and neglectful parents. That would be a pretty simplistic view of its themes (I’m trying not to say stupid.)
It’s better to approach the film as a character study of a damaged psyche. Those expecting a conventional thriller will not find one here, but I found COMMUNION worth sticking with. I applaud British filmmakers who are trying to do something different, and whilst experiments have their failures as well as successes, there are some great creative flourishes to this film. The soundtrack by 52 Commercial Road is fantastic, and COMMUNION makes very effective use of non-diegetic sound mixing that enhances the storytelling motif that reappears throughout. The more playful elements like the use of animation breaking into live film also help create necessary contrast with the darker heart of the story.
COMMUNION will be screening in London on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th August 2103 at the Portobello Pop Up Cinema. Following the Cinematic release in London the film will embark on a UK Tour of film maker led events, independent venues and festival events over August – September – October.
The International Premiere is 19th September in New York at the TriBeCa Film Centre as part of the Bootleg Film Festival NY
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