Saturday, 24 December 2011

Film #72 Another Earth

At first glance, this might appear to be a companion piece to Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, but don't be fooled - the similarities are superficial only. So the titular rogue plant - apparently an exact replica of our own dear Earth - pops up not on a collision course, but hangs wistfully in the night sky, distracting a DUI teen (Brit Marling) into crashing her vehicle into that of a Yale music professor (William Mapother), putting him in coma and killing his wife and child. We then jump to a few years down the line; Marling has left prison and is working as a cleaner, eventually coming to work for the very man whose life she ruined (N.B. he doesn't know who she is). Alongside this, she has entered a competition to travel to this other Earth for reasons of seeing how things have panned out for her interplanetary counterpart.

All of which is a device to facilitate some pretty sixth-form noodly philosophising about the nature of 'choice' and decisions/timelines and so on. This is actually a bit irritating, as, if the intergalactic Maguffin wasn't there we'd actually have a fairly interesting investigation into redemption, worked into a two-lovers-with-a-secret-that-will-tear-them-apart stock story.

And I'm afraid that's about the tenor of the whole film. It's a bag of ideas - both story-wise and stylistically - that never coalesces into a coherent whole. In fact, it would be quite easy to hate this film, especially if (like me) you don't have a great deal of patience with that faux-naive Sofia Coppolla/Dave Eggers-ish strand of American indie culture. There's an awful lot of winsome stargazing going on here (literally and figuratively), with some moments of unintentional hilarity (e.g. a 'musical saw' sequence) that undermine the generally reflective tone.

For a right-on indie flick, there are some odd regressions to stock Hollywood stereotype too: the spiritual old Indian guy; the blind man whose other senses miraculously over-compensate; and the big bad Freudian daddy of them all - the relentless attractiveness of grumpy forty-something men to nubile young women.

But wait! There are some good things here too. The director, Mike Cahill, does achieve some moments of genuine beauty with the images of the twin Earth hanging in the crepuscular heavens. Also, the value for money achieved by the filmmakers is phenomenal - apparently the budget was a mere $200k, yet it looks utterly professional, or at least would've if Cahill had cut out the film-student camera trickery. The score is generally fine, if jarringly inconsistent at times and the performances are good, on the whole.

And while the cinematography, editing and direction are ludicrously mannered at least Cahill's trying for something, attempting to build his own artistic vision; perhaps next time there'll be bit more focus and consistency of technique on display.

It's maybe too easy just to dismiss this as a kind of hipster douchebag version of Melancholia - there's more on display than mere surface. Another Earth is not a particularly enjoyable (or even objectively 'good') film, but it is at least an interesting failure.