A piano sits abandoned on a bright Maltese day. Suddenly, a pigeon plummets onto its keys, landing with a tuneless thud. Thus begins Malta’s very own Do Re Me Fa, written and directed by Chris Zarb. The film comprises of four parallel, but partially interwoven, plot threads, all set within the confines of our very own island.
At the onset of the narrative, the story of children’s entertainer ‘Bozo’ (Paul Flanagan) is devoted the most screen time. A sad, lonely man, he is also a self-hating, repressed paedophile. He is constantly plagued by his conscience (embodied by the excellent Matthew Scurfield) who berates and belittles him for having such urges. The encounters between the two add a surrealist edge to the work.
DJ Trim (Sean O’ Neil) is an American radio DJ and rights campaigner. His scenes are set primarily within the confines of his DJ booth. A sufferer of an increasingly severe anxiety disorder, the (undisclosed) conflicts within himself are as intense as those which take place on the phonelines, as he ruffles feathers defending the causes he champions.
Claudia (Irene Christ) is a German film and television actress who has returned to the stage after a long absence. She too is suffering inner torment, and this is affects both her performances and her mental health. In an attempt to bring these problems to an end she is drawn into the island’s seedy underbelly, which in turn instigates a potentially dangerous relationship.
Finally, there is Kyle (Marc Cabourdin). Although he works in television, his life is not presented as glamorous, but stressful. He is the closest of the film’s protagonists to a ‘Mr Average’ as his problems are the most conventional: his boss doesn’t trust him, his marriage is on the rocks, his mother has dementia, and his son is deaf. Consequently, this thoroughly decent chap is under a great deal of stress.
That is quite a lot to pack in. So the film needs all of its 143 minutes to give each story time to develop. Despite its length, it doesn’t it carry any flab. Every moment on screen adds to the narrative. However, just as the symbolism of the dead dove is neither returned to, nor alluded to, at any time throughout the remainder of the piece (although the piano is seen again at the onset of the credits, sans deceased bird) – thereby leaving any interpretation of its symbolism down to the viewer – the exposition is kept to a bare minimum. Consequently, the viewer is truly thrown into each story in medias res, often with the causes of the protagonists’ current predicaments undisclosed.
In much the same way, at the film’s end numerous unresolved issues remain, and more than a few questions are left in the air. For while certain plot threads are neatly tied up, others remain wide open. This does not detract from the work, nor does it afford the film the closure it could have achieved.This should not be read as a criticism, but an observation on an interesting approach to making a film: that it is presenting a slice of life, rather than merely delivering a conventional filmic narrative; the overriding sense being that every single one of these characters could be the man sitting next to you on the bus or the lady standing behind you at the supermarket checkout.
Such factors also contribute to the sensation in many instances that, although the soundtrack is well appointed and the lensing, acting and editing solid, the piece doesn’t come across as being particularly filmic in the stylistic sense. With the notable exception of elements of Bozo’s story, which are presented as a stream of consciousness – alternately internalising and externalising his encounters with the ‘conscience’ character, which does lend a welcome surrealist edge to proceedings – much of what remains of the film’s visuals are reminiscent of a well-made tv drama (albeit one with high production values) rather than a cinematic feature.
But, ultimately, this minor blemish is relegated to the status of a mere triviality, for this film holds a very special card up its sleeve: its thematic content. Kyle’s storyline excepted, much of what is central to the plot would not be aired on domestic TV. Issues raised and themes explored include paedophilia, irregular immigration, mental health and right to freedom of speech. Coupled with gun sales, shootings, bomb threats, racism, sex acts and drug use which are all depicted on screen, rather than merely implied. Resultantly, it’s fairly safe to say that this film is venturing into unexplored territory for a domestic feature. Vitally though, none of it is sensationalised or superfluous. It is all contextualised and integral to the plot.
This makes the cinema screen the ideal canvas for this work. I would even go as far to say we, the Maltese viewing public, should be glad this film was made at all. Not only are its production values high for a local production but all aspects of the film are admirable and should be praised. If its funding and production here on the island can be followed by recognition at independent film festivals and, hopefully, deserved popularity with domestic audiences, this could result in a far broader market for Maltese films. I wish this production all the success it deserves and I highly recommend that you catch it while it’s on at the cinema.
Written by Shaun Antnin
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