Thursday, 26 May 2011
Transference UK 2011
Directed by Leilani Holmes
A couple of my more regular readers may remember me reviewing Leilani Holmes' excellent short film By The Steps of St. Pauls (review here) back in October? Well she’s since made another 9 minute short film called Transference and was nice enough to let me have access to view it.
I’m pleased to report that she’s managed to pull off another solid movie which makes for compelling watching and, as can be expected from that last film I saw, looks really great. What’s more important for someone like me though, who is writing a few reviews a week and is often at a loss for words until the fingers hit the keypads, is that the two films (and I must get around to watching that dinosaur short of hers too!) both look and feel like they’ve come from the same creative source... even though, for example, the Director of Photography on each one is a different person.
Now then, I’m kinda old fashioned with my appreciation of movies. Yes... I realise that movies (even short ones) are a culmination of the talents of many people... but I still feel that the guiding hand and stamp of the director (and in the case of Leilani Holmes, writer/director) is pretty much ingrained in the film with the work of some of the great artists of celluloid out there... even if it’s digital celluloid. So, yeah, I’m afraid I’m a bit of a supporter of the auteur theory to some extent... not to devalue the contributions of all the many varied and talented crew members on any productions but I think you can often see the hand of the director at work where he or she has gotten the best from the crew and guided them to a place where they are serving a pretty specific vision... usually a vision that has common elements with others of that director’s movies which can lead you to pinpoint a specific person at work behind the scenes (as there are also directors who are almost anti-directors in that they almost pride themselves in showing absolutely no fingerprints on their work at all).
What I’m basically saying though, is that it’s unlikely that you’re going to mistake a Hitchcock or Tarkovsky or Bergman film, for example, with the work of anyone else.
Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Leilani Holmes is just such a person... but, you know, I’ve only seen two of her movies so it could just be a fluke. However, going with my gut here we have two very different films which tackle the human emotion of love in some way (and it could be argued that they both deal with unrequited love to a certain extent, depending on the interpretation of the images you take with you) but, although they are very different, they are also very much alike in tone and so... this far anyway... I don’t feel like I’m going out that far on a limb.
Ok... so Transference is all set in a room during a counselling/therapy session and deals with a patient’s feelings towards his therapist and the level of reciprocation of those feelings... which I’m not going to spoil here a) because it’s only 9 minutes long so you really don’t want to know what happens and b) because, like By The Steps of St. Pauls... it’s in some ways very much spoiler proof. But before I get into the similarities between the two works... I think I’d be better off pointing out the differences in the surface details between the two films to give you an idea of what kinds of elements I’m talking about.
By The Steps of St. Pauls is a silent film (at least in that there is no dialogue in it). It’s shot in a handful of exterior locations and there’s a vibrant score propelling the action along. Transference, on the other hand, is all set in one interior, has absolutely no score (possibly to intensify the intimacy of the piece or possibly because pitching notes under dialogue can sometimes be an art itself depending on the specific pitch of an actors voice... and there’s me channelling Old Hollywood Wisdom again!)... and it’s mostly a conversation between two people and so there is dialogue and it’s quite important to the piece.
But even so, with all that, the similarities which for me represent the directorial signature of the artist at work are pretty evident. There is a very clear, crisp and well framed (almost austere) kind of lustre to the shots again (that I tend to associate with late 80s/mid 90s US independent movies) which, even though it’s by a different DP, gives you a feeling that you are in confident hands with the film. I was dead worried I was not going to like Transference before I watched it but within one minute the confidence of the shots and the editing allowed me to relax and appreciate it for what it is. And there’s some really nice little subtle things done with some very slight blurring on clock faces as focus is shifted which leads to harder stuff (a more bold rack focus shot) and kind of frames the bolder statement within visuals which become almost echoes of each other... quite interesting stuff.
Both the actors, Edward Nelson and Vanessa Spiro, are extremely good (hey, I’m beginning to appreciate acting more these days too... but still haven’t been able to shake the parenthesis bug!) and I am no way intending to detract from their quite obvious and considerable performances by saying that some of the dialogue in this one blew me away. The delivery of the lines was great but the questioning and probing and sweeping statements woven into the conversation was something of a surprise. I hate being completely positive about people but I have to say that Leilani Holmes is actually a very good writer of dialogue... something I had no way of knowing from that last movie I saw. Which brings me to my other little tell-tale “oh-yeah-that-Holmes-woman-did-this” sign...
This is a movie where nothing is stated and etched into stone. You are not necessarily going to be comfortable with everything that’s shown on screen... unless you allow yourself to be... if that makes any sense. What I’m trying to say here, less than eloquently, is that you are not spoon fed or beaten over the head with a specific interpretation of the events or little conversation points (in this case) but rather you are left with big wide open spaces with more than enough room for you to interpret these events on your own... what you bring to the party and the particular spin on it is very much a viewer active part of the experience. She doesn’t make it deliberately challenging for you to interpret the narrative (as another filmmaker I reviewed earlier this week does, which is another commendable approach in some ways) but at the same time, there is some challenge there. She’ll provide you with some elements for you to think about but won’t outright say it. The one question the viewer (at least this one) is itching to find out in Transference, for example, is “Does the therapist have the same feelings for her patient as he is exhibiting... or is this more than a professional distance?” Well the nice thing about Holmes’ work is that she’ll happily rub those flint pebbles together for you... but she won’t be starting any fires. That’s your job as an audience member. And I’m kinda grateful for that actually... it’s refreshing sometimes to have the straitjacket of conventional narrative removed.
By way of illustration... I watched this and as it ended I figured... “Well she obviously does... so possible happy ending in the works for them both.” Then again, a good friend of mine is a counsellor and since knowing her I’ve come to mildly understand a little about the way a therapist would treat a client in a session and also how, because of the nature of the job, they are exposed to people with emotionally intense feelings and these will obviously, even while maintaining a professional distance, rub off to an extent on the counsellor... on a session to session basis. So once I’d had a think about the movie in the context of my recent friendship with this person... I began to reinterpret the film in my head and came to a very different conclusion to my first, gut reaction. In other words... I’ve transfered my own interpretation onto the film as its played out before me. Which I suspect is a desired response to this work.
And this is one of the great things that movies do of course. They’ll resonate in the brain and you’ll relive them and reinterpret them if they have a little unresolved mystery to them... and this is something that, based on my admittedly limited knowledge of her work, writer/director Leilani Holmes has in spades. She’ll make you think... possibly when you least expect you’ll need to.
Transference is another fine film from an obvious film-making talent whose work is a sure footed and visually rich celebration of ambiguity and the way this intrigues the human psyche like someone pulling a loose thread and threatening to unravel way too much. Her films will stick in your memory... so if you get the opportunity to check this one out, definitely don’t let that pass you by. I just wish someone would give her a gazillion pounds to make a feature. I’d be first in line to see it.