“The house I live in is an island. My dad says we’re trapped…He says a man who can read, write and kill has got it all”. So begins the story of a teenage-boy (Barry Keoghan) and his zombie-like hallucinating father (Dénis Ménochet), whose lifeless eyes we first encounter as he appears to watch six televisions at once. He eventually becomes coherent when recounting a complex dream. His wary son remains dubious.
A pink beach ball unites the lonely and thoughtful boy with a girl (Goda Letkauskaitė), a fellow field worker referred to by his father as ‘a stray cat’. As they drift in a boat, the boy comes out with a declaration of his gentle desire for her, not realising that two pairs of eyes in the bushes, Bill (Sean Buckley) and his wife (Eileen Davies) are gazing at him with the same longing. From that point on, I was hooked. Clues provided suggested that their life was not always as bleak – a tattooed wedding ring, a framed photo, an articulate boy.
Nominated at the 2015 Edinburgh Film Festival for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature, writer and director Martin Radich has created a beautifully tragic and thoughtfully worded story in a bleak but scenic Norfolk. This is his third feature film after Crack Willow (2008) and The Conundrum (2011) and inspired by an image of a soldier Radich found in a book and hung onto: “…I want to listen to a story that might say something to me, that might educate me, that might offer up an alternative approach to a conundrum. That’s what cinema should do.” The boy’s simple and sincere speech, beginning with “I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to say to a girl…”, is worth learning by heart.
Cinematographer Tim Sidell’s images – video mixed with the Alexa film-style digital camera – are really striking. Have a look at his website (timsidell.com) for an unnerving and well-crafted image not included in the film. Barry Keoghan delivers and receives with delicate vulnerability. Watch out for him in Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Killing of a Sacred Deer, screening at Cannes in May, as well as Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film Dunkirk. Dénis Ménochet, seen in Inglorious Basterds and Assassin’s Creed, amongst many other films, is chillingly tender: ”On the surface I am clinical, underneath I am rotten”. Special mention to the casting director Layla Merrick-Wolff, who appears to be a genius for creating an eclectic group. Did I mention the soundtrack? Someone had a good time creating it.
To find out more, have a look at the BFI website’s interview with Martin Radich.
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