You’re The Stranger Here

You’re The Stranger Here

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

There is a distorted electronic soundtrack, a harsh and insistent grating. There is a queue, furtive, the sense of rationing, desperation, the end of rationality. It is somewhere, some time.

A vagrant in the street starts to twitch, almost a dance. His leg spasms like a beast caught in a trap. He is shot. Not the balletic executions of Equilibrium, nor the poolside machinegunning of Alphaville. Stark totalitarian death, men in dirty coats accompanying a man in a grey uniform. The weapon in his hand is not the source of his power. It is the fear around him.

There is a woman. Her name is Margot. She lives with Bruno, who may be her husband. He may be an apparatchik within the party. He keeps a girl, Katherine, in their house. His motives are clear. Returning from the shops, her leg starts to twitch. She tries to hide it.

Things change. She is claimed by the man in the black uniform at a function. It is an anonymous marble space. It may be a concert hall or a shopping mall or a mausoleum. The women are dressed in gowns, chains of pearls, couture as straightjacket. Things do not change.

This is brutal, powerful filmmaking. It has a timeless feel to it, a generic desperation borne of privation. It is an isolating, haunting, anonymity. It could be anywhere, any-when. It recalls East Germany, Korea, Portugal, everywhere that has had a totalitarian experiment. The Handmaid's Tale, 1984, both spring to mind.

Kate Cook as Margot is stunning, also seen in Songs For My Mother at EIFF 2009. Her hair and makeup are reminiscent of the secretaries in Downfall, Maggie Gyllenhall in Secretary, the kind of dateless costume where it is simultaneously 1950 and the future. Bruno is played by veteran actor Anthony Smee. He was Major Hewex in Return Of The Jedi, and here seems at once not at all and far removed as a man modern enough to cook in a floral pinafore to serve to the women in his wood-panelled dining room and to rarely beat his wife. Ella Peel is heartbreaking as the innocent Katherine, isolated from the brutality outside by her captivity in Bruno's household.

Writer and director Tom Geens has produced a few short films, and from this it is easy to hold high hopes for a feature film in the future. With almost no dialogue, it's his eye that matters, and it's a good one, sharp. Apparently it was shot on digital and there's the same slight dissonance as with Public Enemies, but here it appears grime, vaseline on the lens of the repressive state. Lol Crawley's cinematography is excellent as always, her work on Wasted, Jade and Harvest and this film all present at EIFF 2009 and always well judged. Peter Diggens' music brings it all together, a sort of squalling, haunting.

At 17 minutes this is not so much a short as only long enough to do exactly what it wants to. We could see more but it would be redundant. This is a honed, powerful piece.

Reviewed on: 11 Aug 2009
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Margot has a crazy leg. She lives in a fascist regime where they shoot people with crazy legs.
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Director: Tom Geens

Writer: Tom Geens

Starring: Kate Cook, Anthony Smee, Ella Peel

Year: 2008

Runtime: 17 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

EIFF 2009
Glasgow 2010

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