My Feral Heart

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

My Feral Heart
"Gull has a keen eye for nature, beautifully captured by cinematographer Susanne Salavati."

Discussion of diversity in cinema has come increasingly to the fore in recent months, with female representation highlighted by the Bechdel Test (is there more than one woman in the film, do they talk about something other than men?), the Vito Test for LGBT characters (read more about that here) and campaigns such as this year's #Oscarssowhite, highlighting the lack of racial diversity in awards season - and, by extension, in films in general.

Arguably the most under - and badly - represented people of all, however, are those with disability, and in particular, learning disabilities, whose onscreen characters are all too often only defined by the perceived 'limitations' of their situation or presented stereotypically. It's worth noting that, according to a GLAAD's 2015-16 survey just 1.7 per cent of series regulars on US broadcast TV have a disability.

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All of which makes My Feral Heart - which is, at its best, a warm character study of a protagonist who just happens to have Down's syndrome - a breath of fresh air. Rebutting stereotypes from the outset, Luke (Stephen Brandon) is shown in the role of a caregiver, looking after his elderly - and poorly - mum (Eileen Pollock) at home in what is a well-established and organised routine. When she dies, he finds himself uprooted and plonked in a group home for the disabled, which sees him add a layer of anger over a perceived loss of independence to his grief. So it is that Duncan Paveling and Jane Gull - both working on their first feature - having indicated we should consider any stereotypical views we might hold, explore how Luke's prejudice against the care home initially works against him.

Just as we have been shown all may not be as we expect, so Luke comes to learn that things might not be so bad in his new home. He strikes up a sparky relationship with care worker Eve (Shana Swash) while also forming a friendship with Pete (Will Ralstall), who is carrying out his community service in the grounds of the home, while also carrying around his own hidden grief. This is Luke's life and we see things from his perspective, so that when he comes across an injured, feral girl (Pixie Le Knot) he reacts, not as we might expect, but in a way that is fully in keeping with his personality and his raw state of mind in the wake of the loss of his mother. The Girl, unfortunately, comes to add unneccessary melodramatics and confusion to a film that thrives in its simpler, more observational moments, as Paveling doesn't quite have the experience to fully integrate her with the more naturalistic elements of the plot.

But if the latter part of the film succumbs to far too much in terms of incident, there is a great deal to enjoy along the way. Gull has a keen eye for nature, beautifully captured by cinematographer Susanne Salavati (another name to watch), giving us a vibrant sense of its emotional appeal to Luke and Pete. She also gets great performances from all three stars. Brandon has an easygoing charm and smoothly conveys both the tension Luke feels between his outgoing nature and his newly discovered introspective grief, while Ralstall embraces Pete's conflict, shifting subtly between the twin engines of rebellion and guilt. Swash is also full of energy as the bubbly Eve, bringing a depth of emotion that ensures her character is never sidelined. This particular narrative might not quite go the distance but I'd put money on almost everyone involved being around for the long haul in terms of future filmmaking.

The film is currently screening in the UK according to demand, to find a screening near you, visit the official site.

Reviewed on: 04 Nov 2016
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An independent man with Down's syndrome finds his life changed when he is forced into a group home.
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