Review: The Falling

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DIR/WRI: Carol Morley • PRO: Luc Roeg, Cario Cannon • DOP: Agnès Godard • ED: Chris Wyatt • CAST: Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh, Maxine Peake, Monica Dolan, Greta Scacchi

 

In The Falling, Carol Morley follows up her memorable documentary feature, Dreams of a Life (2011), with an equally mysterious piece of fiction. Set in a pitch-perfect evocation of 1960s England, The Falling involves an inexplicable epidemic of fainting spells that sweeps a girls’ school in the aftermath of a tragic event.

 

The narrative centres on a pair of girls, Lydia (Maisie Williams) and Abbie (Florence Pugh), whose contrasting personalities and symbiotic relationship stirs faint memories of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994). Williams is highly credible as the sullen and acerbic half of the pair, although newcomer Pugh arguably steals the film in the less showy part of the otherworldly Abbie. Of the adults, Greta Scacchi and Monica Dolan contribute sharply-etched turns as a prim teacher and a dismissive headmistress, respectively, while Morfydd Clark makes an impression in a small part as the only “adult” to be affected by the fainting spells that spread like wildfire through the student body.

 

The ever-fine Maxine Peake has a tricky role as Lydia’s agoraphobic mother, remaining aloof for the bulk of the film before delivering a series of last-minute revelations that have the unintended effect of sapping some of the film’s alluring ambiguity. Morley’s decision to provide a partial solution to one of The Falling‘s central mysteries sets it apart from its most obvious antecedent, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). While some may be disappointed that The Falling is rather more literal-minded than it initially appears, Morley’s decision to privilege the lived experiences of her adolescent protagonists over their symbolic qualities sets her film apart from the fascinated, but remote, gaze of Weir’s classic. Like Lucille Hadzihaliovic’s ravishing Innocence (2004) and Jordan Scott’s unfairly overlooked Cracks (2009), The Falling has empathy and rigour that cuts against the potentially objectifying qualities of the long-standing “mysterious schoolgirls” subgenre.

 

Claire Denis’ regular cinematographer Agnès Godard provides beautifully burnished images throughout, proving equally adept with the uncomfortable intimacy of Lydia’s suburban home and the eerie beauty of the exteriors. Chris Wyatt’s editing is also striking, tempering the dreamlike pacing of the film with flash-cut imagery that lends a genuinely disorienting edge to the fainting sequences. These sequences, like the film in general, are immeasurably enhanced by a marvellously evocative score by the great Tracey Thorn. Equally sensual and naïve, childlike and world-weary, Thorn’s unmistakable voice perfectly catches the tone of the film, and goes a long way to maintaining Morley’s intoxicating mood through the occasional bumpy patch.

 

 

David Turpin

16 (See IFCO for details)
102 minutes

The Falling is released 24th April 2015

 

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Gold

GOLD-directed-by-Niall-Heery-starring-Maisie-Williams-David-Wilmot-Kerry-Condon-and-James-Nesbitt

DIR: Niall Heery  WRI: Brendan Heery, Niall Heery  PRO: Tristan Lynch, Aoife O’Sullivan DOP: Tim Fleming ED: Tony Cranstoun DES: Padraig O’Neill MUS: Niall Byrne CAST: David Wilmot, James Nesbitt, Kerry Condon, Maisie Williams

 

Niall Heery’s second feature-length film focuses on a semi-rural Irish family and how they cope when Alice’s (Kerry Condon) ex comes back into their life. Ray (David Wilmot) has returned to both connect with his daughter, Abbie (Maisie Williams), and visit his dying father. Twelve years since he abandoned Alice, she and Abbie have moved in with Ray’s former P.E teacher, Frank McGunn (James Nesbitt). Frank is driving his step-daughter to excel at track-and-field, and has his sights set on creating a new running technique that will “Change the lives of millions”.

Gold is a decent film, with some good qualities. One of the stand-out aspects of the film is Nesbitt’s performance as the self-obsessed and deluded Frank McGunn. Nesbitt’s performance here is real quality, and some of his lines are brilliant. (When they enter woods where Abbie runs, he warns, “One wrong move, they’ll be dragging you out in a body bag”). Perhaps the funniest facet of the film is his glorifying running videos, in which he discusses the life-changing running technique he has developed. These really show how driven and absurd his character is.

In general, the acting throughout the film is good. Condon gives a strong performance as McGunn’s overshadowed wife. It is clear that his infatuation with sport has made him forget the family he has. The film revolves around two major points. The first is how it tackles one of the biggest conundrum’s in Irish society today, the rise in suicide rates and, in particular, how it is still viewed as a taboo subject. The sense of shame people can feel at a family member committing or attempting suicide is well portrayed here. There is even the suggestion by one of Abbie’s friends that, since her biological father Ray attempted suicide, she is much more prone to attempting something similar in the future. It is also notable how the characters actually struggle to say the word suicide itself.

The other aforementioned facet is the pressures that Abbie is constantly under from her stepfather. It shows how unhealthy this can be for both parties involved, as Frank’s personal life has suffered, while Abbie ultimately cheats to give him the deluded thought that his new running technique is helping her improve. In a short space of time, he goes from thinking she has justified all his work to suddenly supporting her as she struggles just as Ray had before her.

However, the film does have its deficits. The above points, particularly the one on suicide, is not developed enough. When we are first made aware of the characters’ unease with the topic, it is expected that the film will primarily deal with the issue. However, as the film progresses, events take place that leave the viewer rather bemused as to what the film’s stand on suicide really is. Also, the fact that Alice, after being abandoned by Ray, moves in with his former P.E teacher, just seems completely implausible. While Condon gives a brilliant performance, the way her character is written and the choices she makes can make her seem odd.

The ending itself also feels strange as the film skips forward a few weeks and certain resolutions seem to come from nowhere. However, the film stands up well, with Heery’s directing very solid througout.

Alan Shalvey

15A (See IFCO for details)

88 minutes

Gold is released 10th October 2014

 

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