Wednesday, 11 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: A Thousand Oceans




HARROWING! This film really turns on its head half way through from a mystery drama into something quite upsetting and devoid of hope.

After an amateurish start littered with terrible acting, protagonist Mikel (last seen in the brilliant German film The Wave) is whisked off to the Maldives by his best friend and away from his initiation into his father’s car company, a move that has been decided for him and that he doesn’t want. There are some idyllic scenes in the Maldives as the two friends laugh and chill together on the beach with new friends, but this part is rushed through and we don’t get to see much of their experiences or adventures here. As the day comes to fly back home, Mikel’s best friend decides he doesn’t want to leave the islands, so Mikel is left to go back alone to face the wrath of his father.

This is where the mystery kicks in:  his family start acting strangely, he’s constantly thirsty for water, his mother becomes obsessed with Princess Diana’s death, his dad closes the car company, his younger brother is studying brains, and he discovers he can’t go back to the Maldives to get his friend back because the resort they holidayed on ‘is barred to visitors.’  Then suddenly a bloodied girl is spotted on the staircase at Mikel’s home and it all goes a bit WTF!

Suddenly the film switches (ahhh, the classic “One Week Earlier….”) and we find out that what we’re watching isn’t really happening at all. Mikel never went to the Maldives -  there was a car accident on the way to the airport that has left him in a vegetative coma.  Everything he is experiencing is his unconscious warping reality: his constant thirst is down to the fluid being pumped into his body; his father closed the company because he is distraught about the accident; his younger brother is studying brains to try and understand Mikel’s injury; the island is barred to visitors because Mikel’s best friend died in the car accident, and he cannot go to him because Mikel is still technically alive.

It all gets very depressing from this moment onwards as the family begin to realise Mikel is lost to them. By contrast, Mikel is inhabiting an increasingly surreal world inside his unconscious (being followed by a giant walrus) and the focus of the film now rests on the impossibility of these two sides to communicate directly with one another – to ever be able to communicate.

I have a few qualms about the overall effect of the film. It would have worked so much better if the director had portrayed the relationship between Mikel and his best friend in more than just random childhood flashbacks and we had seen more interaction between the two of them in their daily lives/on the Maldives. Films should show, not tell! There was a glaring lack of depth, which – at 82 minutes – could easily have been accomplished by adding in 20-30 minutes of extra detail and pathos.

The use of metaphor and symbolism was at times questionable, too. The Princess Diana stuff seemed to make no obvious sense at all – the reasoning “car accidents are not meaningless, they can restore feelings in people” was spread awfully thin. It’s as if the director just had to have her mentioned in the film for some bizarre reason!

With more characterisation and back story this film could have been amazing -  some clever elements to the narrative and script just needed a bit more polishing and refining. (And I must say, although I’m not sure how in bad taste this is, the lead actor was so much better playing someone with a severe brain injury than a bored and frustrated 24 year old!)

A special mention about the music used in this film – it was haunting and melancholy and used at peak times of despair and gloom. Lovely stuff, and I might seek out the soundtrack later.

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