She looks sad.
I think she looks determined.
And very much in love.
Very much in love.
This is a strange little movie. The critical response has been rapturous, but even the arthouse audience has had reactions revolving around a kind of befuddled boredom. It’s certainly a challenging movie, difficult to talk about because there’s not much as far as plot goes. Honor Swinton Byrne plays the lead, a young film student who finds herself involved with an older man; he’s unstable and uncertain and manipulative, but Swinton Byrne’s Julie seems willing to overlook those things. The story of their relationship unfolds at a molasses slow pace over more than two hours of hushed dialogue and lengthy silences. The film seems determined to resist melodrama or flourish at every turn; the visuals are stark, well-composed but colorless and deadening and the only music is diegetic. For all that, I found the film utterly watchable and compelling in a quiet kind of way; I was never bored or unengaged and I’m not entirely sure why not. I will say that Swinton Byrne, daughter of character actress extraordinaire Tilda Swinton & Irish playwright John Byrne, gives a really astounding performance; she’s utterly naturalistic and she has an unforced charisma that is still quiet enough that she seems like a normal person, not a movie star. It’s a minimal performance, but a fully realized one; she’s in almost every shot of the movie and she holds the camera’s gaze like a pro, though this is her first real acting gig (outside of a tiny part in Hogg’s I Am Love from about ten years ago). Tom Burke has a difficult part as the troubled man in Julie’s life and he’s quite good. And Tilda Swinton herself appears in a pretty small role as Julie’s mother; it’s a tiny role, really, but there’s a scene near the end and you can tell it’s the reason any performer would take that role. Presumably, she also took it to get to work with her daughter too. Anyway, when the film ended, I felt really uncertain, like I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel or what I was supposed to think about the story and characters I’d just seen. What, at the end of the day, was the point? Or was the point that there wasn’t a larger point? As time has gone on, I’ve come to some level of “understanding,” or whatever, of what the film was up to, but I don’t want to share any of that, because it feels very personal and it feels like everyone who approaches the film will have their own very personal reaction. It’s a challenging film and obviously one that has kept a lot of people at arm’s length; but the rewards are tremendous and, if it perhaps falls short of greatness by virtue of being a bit too languid even for me, it’s a striking film in other ways and a quietly haunting one. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – a star-making lead performance elevates this quiet drama of a young film student struggling to discover herself; molasses slow & challenging, but the rewards are tremendous. 3 ½ stars.