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Gazeta Wyborcza Review, Poland

September 2008

Duane Hopkins’ debut feature doesn't fool you with a gentle introduction, nor a spark of hope at the end. The first uttered word "nothing" adequately sums up the mood from the beginning. That word, said distinctly and slowly, is at the same time literally shown within the frame, printed on a piece of paper. Take a good look – says the director – and try to see what's underneath.

The film begins with a young girl's funeral in a provincial English town. The ceremony takes place without hysteria. When someone dies with a needle they themselves have stuck in their vein, there is hardly anyone to blame for such a premature death. We can hear some singing from behind the closed church door, a young boy approaches the fresh grave. His nearby friends go through their own partings, only a little less ultimate. Someone leaves the town; someone no longer loves someone else. And there is an old couple, Mr and Mrs Gladwin – strangely distant towards each other, even though they have spent most of their lives together. There is another elderly woman, lonely and bed-bound. And finally her grand-daughter: an agoraphobic, house-bound, room-bound, book-bound…

Cinema is fond of such mosaics – several unhappy, lonely protagonists whose fates interweave until a collective catharsis comes. Standard diagnosis: an inability to understand or to find understanding; a lack of sympathy in the world surrounding the individual. With Hopkins the miraculous catharsis does not come: isolation looks insurmountable; provincial England is grey and depressing, and “better things” you can only see when you’re high.

Despite the omnipresent inertia, these characters struggle with their loneliness and isolation, in search of love. And in spite of the violent emotions and raw naturalism on display, there’s the balancing presence of patience and empathy in the camera’s gaze. Although the dominant mode here is realism, this is no ‘cinema-verite’ or current affairs piece; instead we have successful experiments in the editing of picture and sound. 

This young British man’s film is a sort of enlightening memento for those who haven’t yet spotted that life sucks, that it denies us the perverse exhiliration of a hopeless existence. Instead of imposing upon this world any godly miracles, the director is interested in a close and honest observation of it. He follows the details. The faces of these mostly amateur actors are not traditionally ‘filmic,’ not photogenic: the visible etchings of old age and drug abuse are not aesthetically pleasing. However once you scratch that surface, something hyper-real is unveiled, something worthy of a film.

Darek Arest

Source | Gazeta Wyborcza


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