Wednesday, 15 May 2013

REVIEW: Endless Life (2013)

Endless Life is a Northern Irish independent film made on location in Belfast on a budget of £2,000. With an emphasis on improvisation and open-ended resolutions, it recalls the work of John Cassavetes, an oddly enduring influence throughout Ireland (see also: What Richard Did and Dollhouse). Where other locally produced films, though undeniably admirable for getting made at all, have been less than successful – Kieran Majury’s Deadville and Michael McNulty’s Toothbrush – does Endless Life hold up in its own terms?

Eva (Karen Kinghan) is a young woman who lives in Belfast with flatmate Claire. As Claire’s career and her relationship with her boyfriend David become more serious, it becomes evident that Eva, still very much interested in parties and drinking, will have to move out. The prospect of a place opens up when her ex-boyfriend Will (played by Michael MacBroom, the writer and director) returns from aboard. Eva and Will had an acrimonious break-up following a miscarriage the year before and Eva’s friends wonder if the rekindling of this relationship is the best thing for the increasing hedonistic and directionless Eva.

Deadville and Toothbrush failed primarily was in their inability to maintain a consistent tone. Deadville had a few moments of surprisingly bleak drama that were ruined by some really terrible masturbation gags and Toothbrush was all over the place. Endless Life improves on these two by its clear artistic purpose and by its seriousness, surprising since a lot of the film seems to be improvised by the cast. MacBroom clearly wants to make a film that will be taken seriously, not one that will merely amuse his mates.

Endless Life is essentially a portrait of a young Belfast woman on the verge of responsibility – she knows she has a limited time left to emulate her student days before life takes over. The obvious counterpoint is Claire, with her career, her fiancée and her dinner parties in which the other guests are, significantly, older. However, MacBroom is not such a dogmatic filmmaker and he does allow life’s messiness into his fiction, since there is the much more ambiguous figure of Eva’s best friend Liza – who has a job yet manages to match Eva almost drink for drink. MacBroom does not offer any overt explanations for Eva’s behaviour and, most refreshingly, does not make any judgements. When Will confronts Eva about her lifestyle, it is difficult know why he is so angry or towards whom MacBroom himself is most sympathetic. Endless Life tries to tackle humanity as a multifaceted and constantly fluctuating series of moods and desires, which are often unpredictable, even somewhat unknowable. The film’s ambiguities are less the result of a conscious stylistic choice and more a means of expressing the complexities of life. Never clear-cut, Claire’s dinner party, for example, is played for laughs but throughout maintains a degree of uneasiness and an underlying sadness. Meanwhile, a scenic holiday ends up being so self-consciously romantic that it becomes awkward, almost bitter.

This leads us to the main flaw in Endless Life, or, possibly, as in Cassavetes, where a second viewing will help most – the film becomes so ambiguous as to be rather vague. Will shifts from not expecting anything from Eva (though this is hard to believe even as he says it) to complaining about her disregard of him much too fast. There are two scenes in which this shift can be seen to be developing, in which Will talks to a friend who acts as his sounding board, but they are fairly inexpressive. Similarly, the film’s ending is a little too open, with too many inferences cancelling each other out, leaving it feeling unintentionally meaningless. Endless Life may have been better if it had been longer, having the benefit of more time to develop. That said, MacBroom finishes with a nice little touch of wiping the protagonist off the screen just before the end, of which Antonioni (see Blow-Up, L’eclisse and The Passenger) would have approved. The only other flaw, fairly minor, was technical – the sound levels were set much too high, making Eva’s laughter hurt the ear and the closing of a car boot sound like an explosion.

Endless Life is an ambitious and serious film by a local independent filmmaker who has proved himself to be someone to watch. It is great to see that, in Northern Ireland, there is an independent voice to counter the disappointingly mainstream Jump and Good Vibrations, especially one that is open to the complexities of real life instead of generic or post-modern references. I look forward to his next film and wish him luck with it.

Endless Life was screened as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and now has a website.

See also: Husbands

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