Finding Ophelia – Review

Written & Directed by Stephen Rutterford

USA/2021/73mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

How often do we sacrifice too much of ourselves in chasing a dream? An ideal form or figure, a person or concept. And how much is too much to give in pursuit of this? And what could be worse than losing your grasp of reality chasing figures, than realising that this manifestation of perfection may be genuine – if nightmarish. William Edgar forges a path like one many of us will recognise, chasing down an obsession, a woman, at the cost of the reality and loved ones surrounding him.

A wander-line of a film, writer and director Stephen Rutterford draws elements of folklore and fantasy into the gritted streets of New York in ‘Finding Ophelia’ (2021), in respect, this blending of archaic and contemporary maintains the grimness of the original tales, sprinkling the streets of the city with a natural connection to story and myth. From the outset, Jimmy Levar (William) carries the film where others falter, sympathetic and forthright in the more obscure choices and decisions his character makes. And while the same cannot be said for much of the supporting cast, Levar carries both the introduction and the climax with a degree of engagement.

Underneath all of the forced symbolism, a ripple of aggression stems across the film, whether a reference to the Shakespearean origins of a man enacting his futile anger on a loved one over his hatred for another or a wider cast net, Rutterford has much to say but struggles to align his vision. Choreography becomes a valuable medium to offer a universal connection, present across the film, but the layering upon layering of semiotics and metaphorical showboating becomes too much to bear.

Perhaps a hyperbole of the sickest measure, cinema is never to be gate-guarded. To enjoy a form of cinema, whatever the genre or narrative, guilty pleasures and film snobbery have no place in the industry. With that said… ‘Finding Ophelia’ (2021) is without question a straying from any mainstream audience. For cinephiles and those sniffing out the truffles of love, labour will strike notable achievements, but for a casual viewer, this film will sting, if you haven’t already switched off.

If one sits and dissects scenes, they will undoubtedly locate intent and even perhaps poignancy; the principal issue is choosing to do this. It’s a pastime, and to unearth something is a rewarding feeling, but not in a film that is a struggle to watch. A cinematic experience telling you it has something to say isn’t quite as attractive or crafted as well as something that makes you want to hear what it has to say.

Driven to a state of madness, Shakespeare’s Ophelia (undoubtedly the leaping point for Rutterford’s film) is perhaps best known to many for her gaunt, aethereal portrait of a young noblewoman laying back in a pool of water, drowning in a serene, terrifyingly calm manner. A sign of femininity, Christina Chu-Ryan’s Ophelia is a symbolic motif that counterbalances Levar’s striking masculinity and focus. Flowing, a credible improvement is the activeness of her role, a persistent sense of movement accompanying some strikingly creative visuals. The softness of the dreamlike woman, always out of reach, plays well into the film’s visual aesthetic, but also demonstrates its overuse.

Perhaps a wobble of confidence, the over-reliance of graphical and video effects overburdens and detracts from the attempts at worldbuilding. A soupçon of otherworldly techniques offers an immersion, but here a swamp of effects drowns out much of the director’s intentions. Irritatingly, there are some cracking visuals on display, choice stills and frames which demonstrate a canny editorial ability and cinematography – particular with the choice of lighting and colour palette, but within a sea of hazy dreams, only a few moments are salvageable.

Occasionally a debut feature film blossoms with valiant purpose but often finds its intentions superficial. ‘Finding Ophelia’ wishes to communicate volumes but attempts to fuse insoluble aspects as opposed to a luxurious mingling of strengths. Quickly Rutterford finds themselves wadding out into deep waters, unable to feel firm footing on the ground. One day, though not quite yet there is potential for tremendous work, but ‘Finding Ophelia’ fails to maintain neither focus nor intention, valuing symbolism over coherency.

Review published for In Their Own League

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