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Side Street Films: Electricity

Friday, February 20, 2015 by

Eden Cinemas’ innovative Side Street Films programme is aimed at showing that there is “more to cinema than Hollywood” – and we couldn’t agree more. Our resident cineaste Shaun Antnin takes a look at the fortnightly offerings from Eden’s artistically oriented programme and decides what they are worth.

Lily O’ Connor (Agyness Deyn) works at a pierside games arcade in a Lancashire seaside resort. She discovers that her estranged eldest brother, Barry, has sold their recently deceased mother’s house and wants to split the proceeds with her. However, Lily believes they should also share the money equally with their middle sibling, Mikey, who, Barry informs her, has gone missing somewhere in London. Against Barry’s wishes, Lily embarks on her quest to London, and undertakes her search for a sibling she hasn’t seen since childhood, in an unfamiliar city, with nothing but a photograph to go by.

Standing alone, the fish out of water plotline above would not mark this film out as anything out of the ordinary. However, two significant elements distinguish this work from countless televised dramas with similar plotlines. The first of these is that Lily suffers from a seemingly untreatable form of epilepsy, so severe as to be debilitating. The resultant fits are irregular in both their frequency and severity. This affliction brings both an entirely unique element of risk and a secondary plotline into the narrative, adding substantially to the drama.

The second innovation is the stylistic component. The fits which have such a profound effect on Lily’s life are represented in a variety of ways, using everything from a multitude of up-to-the-minute technological effects to everyday cinematic staples such as slow motion. Sometimes, they are heard off-screen; alternatively, they may be presented as dreamlike hallucinations, as out of body experiences, or from a first person perspective. This innovative approach to cinematography is not limited solely to Lily’s attacks. Large chunks of narrative are daringly shot as if from a first person perspective.

The feared consequence of an excessive use of point-of-view shots is a chronic lack of empathy with the protagonist; hence why it is typically avoided. Although pov shots are typically employed to encourage viewer empathy, exclusive use of this perspective would result in eliminating reverse shots, so the lead protagonist’s facial reactions would be entirely unseen, and this pertinent lack of a visible leading character would ultimately have a terminal effect on the viewer’s engagement with both the protagonist and, consequently, their plight, thereby making the plot an irrelevance.

Electricity-1

Electricity combats this perennial problem in a number of ways. While establishing shots for each new scene are typically landscapes framed in long shot, or mid-shots when dialogue is involved, whenever human interaction takes place it is always interspersed with subjectively filtered images, with the viewer in no doubt as to what is going through Lily’s mind at any given time. This serves to remind the viewer of both Lily’s workaday agreeableness and her atypical medical condition.

Scenes where the shots are from Lily’s visual and aural perspective are often supplemented by the prominent use of first person, stream of conscious voiceover narrative, where she talks about herself, to herself. She does not address the viewer in a knowing, Sam Spadesque ‘after the fact’ manner. Further to this, the hierarchy of knowledge throughout the film is pegged to that of the protagonist. So, as Lily encounters new people and makes new discoveries, the viewer acquires the fresh information at the same time, which further ensures that the bond between protagonist and audience is maintained

As Lily’s search for her brother and her battle against her medical condition comprises the entire plot thread, empathising with her is integral to whether the film succeeds as a piece of entertainment or not. Fortunately, Deyn carries this film in a magnetic debut leading performance, which should lead to other strong roles, while the supporting cast, by and large, are equally solid.

It was also refreshing to see realistic working class and middle class characters, the likes of which are so prevalent in soaps and dramas, make the leap from the small screen to the big one. Realistic Northern accents, grimy seaside resorts and the sights and sounds of working class life and urban living that millions of Britons would be accustomed to, replace the extremes of affluence or poverty/crime that are representative of only a small proportion of the British population, but which are drastically over-represented in the domestic UK film market. However, as refreshing as it may be to see a realistic depiction of modern day Britain outside the stereotypes of cockney geezers and socially inept public school posh boys, my sole concern is that that this very same realism may reduce the film’s appeal in certain English language markets when, in fact, it should increase it.

I hope that we Maltese are among those savvy enough to appreciate the creative quality of this work, for the manner in which the unique subject matter is depicted effectively illustrates the filmic medium’s ability to show the small scale and the intimate, as well as the spectacular and expansive. The contrast between the believable characters and the hyper-realism resulting from the aforementioned special effects, coupled with the uniqueness of the subject matter, should warrant it gets sufficient media attention to earn more than its budget back. I would also argue that Deyn’s performance alone is enough to deem it worthy of a viewing. 

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