LIGHT YEARS by Esther May Campbell

12898170_1663572267250658_5729935758085674911_o-1500x630The feature film directorial debut from photographer and Bafta award-winning director Esther May Campbell is a Sunday afternoon daydream. A child’s bored hallucination, unencumbered by expectations, free-wheeling in imagination and inventiveness. The quirks of the family we are gifted an insight into are a pleasure to behold, threaded into the dialogue, which is natural, if at times a little random. But all can be forgiven. There is no randomness in the sincerity of sibling relations which blossom as the film unfolds.

Rose is searching for her mother. She misses her presence in a stale family home the structure of which has evidently unravelled. Her father, who promises to take her (wherever that may be), runs off to work as if he can’t face it after all. There is clearly a lot of simmering pain being dealt with. But Rose, determined, sets off on her own, embarking on a quest to rescue her mother from an unnamed ailment.

Left behind in the home is Rose’s oddity of an older brother, Ewan, dealing with the deficit of a mother with mild hypochondria as well as obsession with what “normal” means, and older sister Ramona who spends her time spinning fantasies about love and being rescued by a man. The English countryside landscape is green, bathed in sunshine, and pretty empty, giving weight to the notion of everything being dream-like. Adults don’t seem to supervise their children here; a young boy roams around on a bicycle struck by the same imaginary love as Ramona, but for her little sister.

The nature of abandon is supported by poetic monologues of conversations and voice overs that snake past like clouds. This backdrop means that when reality does kick in, it has weight. The rambling storyline pulls the family together, somehow. They congregate in the forest, at the seaside and then finally in the institution where their mother is living. Although a piece of the familial puzzle is always missing, detached or else where – their father hiding at work, Rose running away, the collective siblings watching their parents interact from afar as if the puzzle as a whole is something no one can deal with – the indications of tenderness are there. These people love each other, but they are mourning what once was or dreaming of what could be. The present is a little harder to face head-on.

What is so gripping about Campbell’s film is the attention to detail. She knows the value of saying things inadvertently and giving the audience members a chance to make connections for themselves, such as why Ramona keeps dropping to the ground in the middle of her walks and why Ewan keeps staring at himself in awe. The story is patient as it waits for its characters to reveal their motivations, and there isn’t a moment when there isn’t something beautiful to look at thanks to photography-duo Zach Nicholson and Will Pugh. The space provided allows for newcomer Zamira Fuller (Rose), Sophie Burton (Ramona) and James Stuckey (Ewan) to give the inspiring, subtle performances that they do.

The Final Word: Campbell’s craft is light years ahead of its time


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