Drowntown Lockdown – Barbicon Online

Writer and Choreographer: Rhiannon Faith

Director: Adam Sheldon

Lockdown has forced the hands of creativity to flourish in completely unexpected ways for many, and though several productions seek to transform their shows for a virtual or digital format, Rhiannon Faith’s Drowntown Lockdown, a short film, serves as a precursor to a future theatrical narrative, all the time promoting the value of our vital caregivers, therapists, and unseen sufferers during quarantine.

Weaving a contextual form of multimedia, Drowntown Lockdown steers away from an outright retelling of an intended narrative, and instead works as a prequel film to a future stage version now aiming for a 2021 performance. In both this film, and the upcoming production Drowntown, six strangers interlock with their individual darknesses. With lockdown heightening this aspect of isolation, Drowntown Lockdown intensifies the shadows cast against these individuals – the unseen enemy of a virus, the vulnerability, anxiety or lack of communication and hatred of something invisible under the skin. What could have been a cheap promotional tool emerges as a cross-platform taster of what is an assuredly intense future production.

Underpinning Faith’s narrative is the value of key workers to those with anxious, social or mental ailments, and the incapability for some to have regular access to their coping mechanisms or aid, and is expressed throughout Drowntown in sudden, pulsating movements or bouts of restlessness. Movement is a fundamental narrative tool, enhancing the origins of Drowntown as a stage creation, but this short film prequel can’t find firm footing in the digital medium.

Too many edits cause the ocean allegories of choppy seas to rear up, causing disjointed transitions between characters, and though the internal struggles of individuals could benefit from particular editing choices, it causes interference for several performers as scenes become indecipherable. Though, as the characters strive to gain a view of the sea, an unrelenting tide of chaos, openness, and freedom tightly ties the stories together. The cinematic nature overall struggles, even if the courage of producing this, without always having access to the right tools or equipment, is notable.

Rising to the challenge, Adam Sheldon snappily directs the talented cast of six, with Donald Hutera, Shelley Eva Hadden and Thomas Heyes turning in captivatingly cathartic performances. An overwhelming sense of dread, anxiety and shame exude in differing ways, from Hutera’s facial expression to Heyes relentless dread of self-serving elitists pushing for his return to work before guaranteeing safety. Drowntown Lockdown has little issue in tackling the present government’s attitudes of Pounds before People, and the invisibility of those struggling in lockdown.

Hutera’s performance has flickers of old Hollywood, drawing on a well of emotions, visuals, and performances, in a Baby Jane manner, with an underlying theme of solitude, loathing and distress. Hadden exhibits an extraordinary range of flowing contortion, clawing at herself, uncomfortable in the skin she lives in, desperately seeking a way to breathe and escape.

The severity of loneliness cannot be overstated, with an increase of premature death up 30% for those suffering, and with upwards of 11% of those over 65 describing themselves as isolated, the pang of reality is that lockdown has all but likely increased this number. The world has realised the necessity of an emotional connection, starved of mere touch – perhaps the most human of the senses – and Drowntown Lockdown demonstrates the nurturing drive we have.

Available here to stream

Image copyright –  ©Foteini Christofilopoulou

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – Netflix

Directed by David Dobkin

Written by Will Ferrel & Andrew Steele

Rating: 3 out of 5.

With 2020 cascading a series of cancellations on major cultural events, none have hit fans as hard than the postponement of The Eurovision Song Contest. Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdamsDavid Dobkin’s musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga has hit Netflix, and while it’ll scratch the itch, it isn’t quite the same.  Maybe, just maybe, Iceland is in with a shot this year (the irony being their official 2020 participant was a bookies’ favourite). In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and best friend/possibly-maybe sister Sigrit (McAdams) have been bothering the locals with their entries to the contest for years. After a horrific boating accident incapacitates the official entry, Fire Saga is the only option left for Iceland to stay in the competition.

Will Ferrell plays Will Ferrell. That’s about all you need to know as far as his dedication to character stretches. Occasionally it works, but more often he swings for the punchline and lands in a puddle of bewildering. There are attempts at a Sacha Barron Cohen mockumentary but he isn’t fully committing. Lars is unfamiliar with other customs, socially awkward and frequently talks about his and other’s genitals, because that’s still funny, right? Fire Saga seems indecisive between a conceptual mockumentary and a parody, the significant issue here is that it hasn’t the wit for the former, and in the case of the latter Eurovision is a parody of itself – and a far more successful one.

Everything seems dire, and then, Dan Stevens enters the fray. Extravagant, delectable, and debonair – Stevens has the capability of saving the film, especially when sharing the screen with Melissanthi Mahut, the Grecian representative. The pair’s raised eyebrows and glittering gowns may seem antagonistic at first, but their sequins and ferocious nature belay a shockingly persuasive background of development. The Russian entry, Stevens’ opulent flamboyance sparks conversations of recent Russian acts displaying a ‘campiness’; Eurovision one of the only acceptable occasions where they can be open without fear of persecution. It’s a small touch, and in the grand scheme of Ferrell’s antics is surprisingly, and touchingly, subtle in its quiet condemnation of Russia’s attitudes towards LGBTQI+ communities.

Steven’s vocally-dubbed performance makes up for his recent stint in Beauty & The Beast, but if Pierce Brosnan thought this would make amends for Mamma Mia!, the jury’s still out on this one. Fulfilling his obligatory role as the disapproving father, Brosnan’s role is as paper-thin as his accent, joining McAdams in ticking all the boxes of a role which could have been played by anyone.

So, what’s Eurovision without the songs? From Lion of Love to Double Trouble, a smattering of the numbers are evidence of Eurotrash homework. We have it all – power ballads, the risqué fleshy routine, disturbing are-they-siblings duets, and to the film’s credit, a sentimental note on countries choosing to forego the English dominance and perform in their regional language. And when succumbing to a jukebox routine inviting a host of whos-who of Eurovision, the resulting cameos will offer an additional joy for fans of the event, and they’re blended enough so non-Eurovision fans won’t have the momentum disturbed.

Not quite Nul Points – this is still trash. Hot Trash. Hot Euro-Trash. Thing is, it’s like the event itself – a hideous idiom – you’ll either enjoy this or won’t get it. With tighter alignment, embracing what it gets right and ditching what was forced and contrived – this could have been an exceptional musical comedy. As it is, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga begins tacky, rises like a phoenix but ends up losing its (bucks) fizz as the runtime stretches, save for the occasional glitter bomb.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/eurovision-song-contest-the-story-of-fire-saga/

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available to stream from Netflix

Little Girl (Petite Fille) – Ed Film Fest at Home

Directed & Written by Sébastien Lifshitz

France / 2020 / 90 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A majority of French filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz’s library seeks to promote marginalised communities, often featuring queer experiences from France or surrounding Europe. Noted for his exceptionally delicate touch, a phantom presence where the filming itself doesn’t intrude on an authentic experience, Little Girl is no different. The film looks towards the future for young Sasha, who identifies herself from an early age as a girl, not the male body she was born in, and the struggles she and her mother face in convincing schools, friends and Sasha herself about the basic necessity of respecting who she is, and how to move forward. 

Having barely turned three, Sasha recognised something within herself – she wasn’t the boy she was born to be, but rather the girl she felt she was, trapped. When turning four, her mother Karine told her that her desires to grow up into a girl were outwith certainty. The impact was devastating, and Karine openly admits the words she spoke had likely destroyed Sasha’s life had she not reflected and grown. Without prejudice, as Sasha turns seven, both of her parents have opened their minds and are champions of Sasha’s dreams of growing up as a girl. Still understandably distraught at how she hurt her daughter, even if inadvertently, Karine is more determined than ever to pursue an understanding of gender dysphoria, and the realisation of the inevitable struggles Sasha will endure, even from such an early age.

Recognising the tenderness of Sasha’s story, the documentary rightfully allows for prolonged periods of silence. We connect with Sasha in these instances, and they’re dispersed at intermittent intervals following revelations or life events which solidify the audience’s investment. Following psychiatric and medical advice, the most significant impact is a moment many wouldn’t consider in the prospect of a transition for someone so young, the development of puberty and the hormonal battleground between the medication and questions surrounding potential children, fertility or sexual development. The frankness with which Little Girl addresses these is commendable, allowing academics and experts an unimpeded chance to explain. 

And as this is Sasha’s story, Lifshitz’s cinematography emulates this, framed almost entirely from her level, looking up or cutting off that which a young child wouldn’t see. It’s thoroughly personal, drawing the audience into the young girl’s stance in the world, fighting against everything bigger than her – both mentally and literally. Filmed in a gorgeous, wide-shot aspect, Sasha is frequently front and centre, the prima of her own little story. Lifshitz has a soft approach to the filmmaking process, deferring from imposing an impression or message, instead just relaying Sasha’s story.

It helps, as Little Girl never asks those who struggle with the concept of transgender or gender dysmorphia to confront their prejudices or misunderstanding. There is no diminishing, which is fundamentally an impressive holdback on Lifshitz’s part, and the way forward to open the conversation. Lifshitz wants to put across Sasha’s story, and her journey from the mundane to the extraordinary – though even her ‘mundane’ is picking clothes or favourite colours. In particular, a touching callback comes after Sasha has shown a distaste for blue, a gender-specified colour for boys, when the film ends on a shot of her in a soft blue, as she grows more comfortable in herself.

Inherently, Little Girl has no genuine filmmaking flaws other than a short runtime, and an abrupt ending. Its decision to detach itself from statements or morality and follow Sasha’s story as it plays out results in a pure, innocent piece of observational film which achieves the trust of a young girl facing down a pragmatic future, with the strength of character to fight against, and hopefully triumph over, all obstacles.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/little-girl/