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HELEN

Director: JOE LAWLOR & CHRISTINE MOLLOY

U.K.-IRELAND • 2008 COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY STEREO • DIGITAL • 78 MIN


THIS STARTLING FIRST FEATURE FROM IRISH-BORN, LONDON-BASED DUO JOE LAWLOR AND CHRISTINE MOLLOY MARKS THEM AS THE MOST DISTINCTIVE NEW TALENTS TO EMERGE IN THESE ISLANDS IN THE PAST FEW YEARS.
Owing much to the likes of European art-house big-hitters Theo Angelopoulos and Michael Haneke, but also imbued with a Loachian compassion for its working-class heroine, this story of loss and longing is absolutely mandatory viewing: from the moment the camera sweeps across a leafy park where a girl in a yellow jacket peels away from her pals, it’s obvious there is rare filmmaking confidence at work. In the spirit of Antonioni’s L’avventura, however, the substance of the piece is about the aftermath of the disappearance, focusing on Helen (played with trembling authenticity by non-professional Annie Townsend), a lonely hotel maid who volunteers to play the missing girl in a police reconstruction and learns so much about the young woman’s life she almost wants to take her place.
The central notion of identity transference is an intriguing one, yet the film has an intoxicatingly mysterious quality — possibly because it was shot in Dublin, Birmingham and Liverpool yet the locations blend into one unidentifiable urban nowhereland. The widescreen framing and luminous cinematography create a spacious canvas for lives which don’t quite connect, while the filmmakers’ instruction to the performers (all of them drawn from local community groups) not to over-dramatise their roles, keeps the emotive subject matter somehow locked-down yet also available for us to draw connections with our own lives. The film’s formal precision brilliantly maps the intangible spaces between yearning aspiration and quiet desperation. — Trevor Johnston.
Joe Lawlor of the Desperate Optimists will discuss Helen, The Civic Life Series and other film projects on May 2nd, IFI Meeting Room, 3.30pm.

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