Abstract filmmaking will never burst into the mainstream, a fact that in my eyes only makes endeavouring to explore the abstract more essential. However, when doing so, filmmakers take significant risks, risks that could see them produce something nobody relates to, or possibly even understands. Fortunately, those intrepid auteurs willing to try have inspiration from the likes of David Lynch amongst others, who prove it is possible to make something extraordinary. Unfortunately, it is the films which leave the mind wanting, that define the genre for most. Marcus Flemmings’ second film “Palindrome” is one of those films.
Palindrome tells a non-linear story, cutting between the present and past of Anna (Sarah Swain), a spiteful artist who, in the past, thinks Paris is the only solution to promoting her art. Time passes, and she is apart of an unclear traumatic event, one that elevates her to stardom, but leaves her all the more lost. We also follow Fred (Jumaane Brown), a patient in a psychiatric facility, who may, or may not be, imagining Anna as an element of his psychosis, as he tries to save her from dying.
There’s a lot there to unpack, it almost goes without saying that Flemmings’ was decidedly unclear about what he is trying to say, and that’s the fatal flaw. Yes, abstract or “arthouse” films are often intentionally ambiguous. Still, there should be a way to put the pieces together, or at the very least, some apparent message or purpose, Palindrome does not offer that.
What Palindrome does offer is a connection between two individuals that is entirely unsubstantial. Why is Fred the only person in the world who can save Anna? Why would Anna ever contact Fred? Of course, this is a literal way to look at things, but even going further abstract, their lives are hardly similar, and it is a relationship that fails to inspire any deep thought instead evoking the cinema sin of confusion. This lack of justification only compounds the fact that the ending fails to provide a clear resolution for either character opting to end with the crescendo and offer nothing further.
The film is desperately trying to say something here, particularly with Fred, who does show some character progression. He realises he needs to be a better more present person who sticks to his guns and lives life on his terms, and this does impact on the films ending, it’s just there’s no reason to care. If this is indeed the point that people need to make the most of life and be themselves, then Palindrome is a cruel and heartless way of depicting it.
Palindrome is a dark film, one with very little compassion and plenty of twisted imagery. For it to all be about growth is startling. Nobody could feasibly change in this purgatory Flemmings creates, it reeks of repression and offers zero encouragement. Even Anna herself, who contacts Fred to tell him about her impending death, essentially says, “don’t worry that I’m about to die, just make sure you know who I am”. She wants to be remembered, not to be successful, she’s an insufferable figure portrayed with a strange effort to garner empathy. And although I empathise with her turmoil, Fred certainly doesn’t, as he fails to do the one thing Anna asks of him.
On the technical side of things, there is little to say. Still, there is a likeable performance by Thomasin Lockwood who plays avid reader Maria, a chatterbox who offers Fred a helping hand. It is a bit of an empty role, but she steals every scene she’s in which is commendable. Outside of that, all the performances are par, owing little to the actors themselves and more to the screenplay which offers plenty of dialogue but ignores that most of the lines are superficial.
Palindrome is an unreasonably dark film that tries too hard to say a whole lot and ends up saying very little.
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