British writer-director Duncan Roy has a great story to tell here–an autobiographical tale of identity and independence wrapped in the European class system. His experimental film style is fascinating, but distances us from the emotion at the center.
In 1978 suburban London, 18-year-old Dean (Matthew Leitch) is thrown out of his home and goes to work for Lady Gryffoyn (Diana Quick). But when he’s asked to housesit, he adopts her son’s identity and runs to Paris, where he lives the high life with other members of the British aristocracy, including David (George Asprey) and his lively American toy boy Ben (Peter Youngblood Hills). But Dean’s credit card issuer is on his trail.
The struggles Roy went through to get this film made aren’t apparent on screen–it’s a gripping story, beautifully filmed and performed with honest power by the cast. Then Roy decided to mount this as a triptych, putting three small squares of action across the middle of the screen. This allows for some extremely clever editing as the images work with and against each other to tell the story unconventionally, and they also let us edit as we watch, catching things in unexpected ways and drawing out surprising power in key scenes. On the other hand, this makes the images fairly small, alienating us from the story.
In addition, the time period feels slightly under-explored; there are hints of impending Thatcherism, a strong idea that could have been fleshed out a bit. And it’s quite difficult to find a character we can remotely identity with.
This is frustrating because the film is so profoundly well written, acted and filmed. Leitch is especially strong in a very demanding role. And the multi-frame images are striking and clever. As a simple story about one young man’s search for himself, this is gripping, powerful stuff. But you get the feeling that Roy has much bigger fish to fry!