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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Peter Strickland
prd Serena Armitage, Pietro Greppi
with Asa Butterfield, Gwendoline Christie, Fatma Mohamed, Ariane Labed, Makis Papadimitriou, Richard Bremmer, Leo Bill, Britta Gartner, Ginger Brunton, Harry Alexander, Justin Turner, Deborah Griffin
release US 24.Jun.22,
22/UK IFC 1h51
BERLIN FILM FEST
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With his deranged humour more delightfully evident than usual, filmmaker Peter Strickland dips into his past for inspiration. This is the surreal story of a band that is mixing food with sound and performance art. The set-up is bonkers enough without the outrageously hilarious people who populate the story. And while it gets both ridiculous and rather yucky, the film has deeper themes that emerge cleverly along the way.
At the Sonic Catering Institute, proprietor Jan (Christie) has chosen three artists to form this year's collective: Romanian performance artist leader Elle (Mohamed), floppy-haired musician Billy (Butterfield) and French artist Lamina (Labed). Jan has also hired journalist Stones (Papadimitriou) to document their work with words and images. But he's having serious stomach problems, and as resident doctor Glock (Bremmer) investigates this, the tests become part of performances that are staged for audiences, who in turn have a special way to show their appreciation. Meanwhile, the group is coming apart due to disagreements and alliances.
Drawing on experiences in a band and his ongoing interest in sound, Strickland takes such an offbeat approach that we're often unsure how to react. Each scene is infused with quirky wit that's often pitch-black, playing on awkwardness between the characters. Tim Sidell's cinematography is awash in colour, creating a timeless period ambience with continually lurid flourishes. And the sound mix is extremely detailed, playing with the premise while adding amusing touches, such as the escalating feud about using a flanger in performances.
Actors make the most of the deadpan humour on various levels. Butterfield's sulky attitude comically drives everyone nuts, but also reveals the feelings he's hiding behind that massive mop of hair. By contrast, Christie adds an earnestness to her dialog that makes Jan deeply absurd, something also echoed in her florid costumes. Jan's blathering speeches drive Elle around the bend, and Mohamed merrily dives into Elle's fiery stubbornness, while Labed adds a thoughtful edge as the perceptive Lamina.
Amid the nuttiness, it's Papadimitriou's hapless Stones who brings the audience into the often mind-boggling situations. The way his outside observation shifts into full-on participation is underplayed to perfection, a remarkably astute depiction of how art can pull us in, change and consume us. In tussles between the performers and their patronising patron, there are terrific comments about the clash between integrity and commercialism. What emerges is a lovely ode to the fragility of artistic collaboration. But be warned: you may not want to eat either before or after seeing this film.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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