By Fergus Henderson. Anhedonia, named after the depressive’s inability to enjoy things they once did, lives up to its name. It follows miserabalist musician Kino (Liam Blundell) as he sets off on foot to visit his dying mentor Vespucci (Paul Fanning), unperturbed by the hundreds of miles between them. In fact it is the kind of punishing, bleak walk suits the self-loathing, coke-sniffing man.
He is tailed by two mysterious characters working independently from each other who are tasked with stealing the tape Vespucci has asked Kino to bring him, a mysteriously powerful artefact that renders the listener semi-comatose. One is working on behalf of the police, the other is the villainous Philistine (Ross Leyshon), a weird man with a slow smile who is driven by an obscure hatred for art.
This is one of several self-financed films that independent director/producer Michael Henry has made since he founded his own production company Quartz. As such, we are immersed in a film entirely on Henry’s terms, following its own idiosyncratic spirit and beholden to its own whims.
Henry has styled Anhedonia as a metaphysical thriller, and given that it features dream worlds that resemble a corporate version of David Lynch’s Black Lodge that the character enters into in order to have his true self revealed to him, as well as a murderous villain with a gun, it would seem to be one. In the film’s many lapses into surrealism Henry proves great aptitude for making the most of his budget, and he is adept at conjuring places that feel otherworldly in both set and editing. Clearly Henry is a skilled filmmaker.
Beyond the aesthetic signifiers that the film leads with and that are used to demonstrate the film’s metaphysics (Lynch, Wim Wenders’ road movies, maybe even under-appreciated cult classic Radio On), it ultimately comes down to the film’s eponymous diagnosis. Kino is a depressed man who cannot connect with those most important to him. His quest is an inward looking one and his moments of revelation come from simple conversations.
There is much to admire in Anhedonia, and it is especially refreshing to see a British filmmaker using such ambitious and lofty reference points to guide their film. Unfortunately there is also something of a disconnect between the film’s emotional core, which becomes clearer and more heartfelt as it goes, and the chilly, surreal execution. It is in fact quite a simple story that, at its emotional peaks, allow both lead actor Blundell and villain Leyshon to lay bare their souls. That this is the story it is telling renders the first-act surrealism, well-executed though it may be, an overemphasised red herring.
There is both an impulse towards telling a sincere story on the one hand, and on the other conjuring a dark, weird world full of absurd tableaus and stylised performances. Neither quite fit in with each other. This of course is the nature of independent filmmaking: without an outside voice Henry is free to make decisions that are true to his vision. Even if Anhedonia is a little ponderous and overlong, it is still an audacious film worthy of respect.
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