Eye For Film >> Movies >> Connect (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson
Like many men, I wear a watch, but like all Scottish men it's accompanied by a metaphorical one. This imaginary shackle on my wrist tracks two things which swing in proportion with age. At or around adulthood the pendulum swings in one direction, and at or around 45 it swings back. Each tracks the likelihood of my death: from the grim procession of entropy, the slow sweep of decay; and by my own hand.
Connect is about the latter - suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 45. Not entirely, not exclusively, but powerfully, bringing with it complexities and questions. Written and directed by Marilyn Edmond, a début feature and significant effort, Connect is a strong and affecting piece of filmmaking with worthy intentions. That it's occasionally let down by the limitations of its production has less to do with those behind the camera than the nature of the industry, the space in which it finds itself competing. The film does make a point (one I have difficulty with, but understand) about the relative merits of comparing one's life to the selectively edited highlights one encounters on social media. In its various parallels there is a point about judgement and the desire to connect with others - indeed, sufficiently important is that point that it informs the title, the structure, even, indeed, the ending.
I saw Connect at Glasgow's 2019 Film Festival on a Sunday afternoon. It was not yet in the wake of the sad news about Keith Flint, and for reasons entirely unconnected to my mental health it happened that I had four packets of ibuprofen in my bag. I'm fine. Thanks for asking. Glasgow is my home festival, and on my way in to the screening I popped into a chemists to restock the packet I keep at work with the mixture of teabags and condiments and emergency biscuits and stamps that helps solve small problems, and since I was there grabbed another packet for the drawer in the kitchen that is also home to that one kind of lightbulb and takeaway menus for places now closed and a box of matches and a torch with no batteries. I had done the same on Saturday, without remembering, the same sort of quotidian business of shelf-unstacking that fills each day for Brian (Kevin Guthrie).
Kevin's performance fills the film - for sure there are others, Siobhan Reilly's love interest Sam and Sara Vicker as sister Debbie are part of a cast that includes a number of actors with whom Scottish audiences are likely to be familiar. Steven McKing (also in festival closer Beats) is the Tesla-driving guardian angel Jeff - but there's scarcely a scene without Brian and it's that without that builds the film. Even from the off, a figure on cliff-side, fists clenched against the coastal cold, and into the routines of baked beans and small town scenes, he's a presence. One, admittedly, of flattened affect, a degree of disengagement that is difficult but well conveyed.
I mention Keith Flint and my bag inadvertently full of tablets because I have and retain concerns about the depiction of suicide - questions of methodology, ideation, placement - front and centre here, something that I had the opportunity to reach out to the director about - there's a mention in the credits of Brothers In Arms, who had sight of the shooting script. They host drop-in sessions weekly in Glasgow, and while they don't offer direct counselling services or outreach do provide information that's informed the numbers given at the end of this review. The film doesn't, and I can understand Marilyn's reasons for it. The topic is perhaps too large for any one film to address, and certainly the space for support services is large enough for all the groups I've mentioned to offer support.
I mentioned production as Connect went through two rounds of funding on Indiegogo, financing a short round of shooting in Berwick in May and then completion. Amongst other débuts, this is a first feature for Laura Dinnett as cinematographer, and it's a crisp camera indeed. There's is perhaps a disconnect in the fact that the film is set in Scotland at Christmas and it's light in the mornings - I recall a minimum wage winter where nightshifts and other scheduling meant the closest I saw to day was the fluorescent glow off Sunny Delight bottles in petrol station kiosks. There's also perhaps a disconnect from mentioning It's A Wonderful Life, a film that Connect shares some structural and thematic similarities with, but in fairness at not much more than the level of an elevator pitch. As well to compare it to that other Christmas movie Die Hard, in that it involves a man struggling alone against forces that are deceptive in their nature.
There are things that ring very true in Connect - the way in which a family, particularly father and son, don't talk. There are things that feel a little didactic, clumsily expository, but what conversation in a kitchen with volunteers helping out at your grandmother's birthday party doesn't? There are moments where I felt the sound mix of Benjamin McMillan's at times string-focussed score felt a bit heavy-handed. There are bits where I felt the balance of aggression with Neil Leiper's Simon (playing a bit to type - see also his turn as Fido in Beats) was off, but not catastrophically so. There are little things (salads and jogging) that contribute to the sense of making a difference.
It's hard to talk about the subject without delving into the personal - and this is undoubtedly so, because this is clearly a labour of love. Filmmaking is hard, and making films that deal with issues even more so. It's hard to do one thing well, let alone two, and for every film that manages to entertain in a way that's informed by the depth of its subject matter (Black Panther) there's at least one that confuses gloss with substance and adds to, rather than addresses, the issue (Green Book). Connect is far more in the former camp.
After seeing Connect I exchanged emails with Marilyn - she'll be taking her film to be seen by the Scottish Parliament later this year, and they'll see a good bit of filmmaking, a strong début with an important message. There are places where it might be fair to say that her ambition has exceeded her means, but that's the case for many filmmakers. Fond as I am of short film it's sometimes easier to get folk behind features, and this would seem to be the case here. At one point there's a discussion about social media and how the lives presented there are 'carefully edited,' but Connect gives a good account of itself. There are places where its structural sophistication perhaps makes things more complex than it needs to be, others where Brian's issues and how he tries to cope with them don't just hide what's going on but perhaps aren't quite as obviously problematic as they might need to be. There's also my default concern with any film that explores this sort of subject that is probably conditioning from decades of continuity announcers advising who to call if you are affected by any of the issues in a programme.
Connect does just that - in a well attended screening its credits were met with absolute silence, or at leas that's my recollection - not because it didn't work, but because its last subversion of expectations is such a powerful one. Not talking, a shuffling awkward silence, is in some ways a perfect response to a film about the problem of not talking - which is why I suggest you see it.
If you have thoughts about harming yourself, you're under 35 and you live in the UK, or if you're worried about someone you know, you can call HopelineUK on 0800 068 41 41 from 1000-2200 weekdays, 1400-2200 weekends, and 1400-2200 on bank holidays. Anyone in the UK can call the Samaritans at any time on 08457 90 90 90 or 116 123 and men in the UK Calm, the male suicide prevention charity, on 0800 58 58 58 from 5pm to midnight every day of the year.
Other options in the UK include Breathing Space (for depression, stress and anxiety) on 0800 83 85 87 - you can ask for a male or female advisor, and speak to them from 1800-0200 Monday to Friday, and at weekends from 1800 on Friday to 0600 on Monday morning. Chris’s House is a Scottish charity set up to offer a safe, welcoming environment where people suffering from suicidal or intrusive thoughts can come and find refuge. Contact them on 01236 766755 and they have no waiting list. On Monday nights (except bank holidays) at seven PM you can visit Andy's Man Club - they have groups in a variety of towns and cities across the UK, including Dundee and Glasgow. Their aim is to halve the rate of suicide amongst British men. You can, if you prefer, email some of these groups for help. firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK, email@example.com in the Republic. firstname.lastname@example.org is also available, to the same hours as HopelineUK. Many Maytree volunteers have struggled with suicidal feelings themselves and have first hand experience of getting through a suicidal crisis, you can email them at email@example.com.
Most of these numbers won't appear on your phone bill. Some are targeted at men, but not all - certainly they are not the only group affected by depression, by anxiety, by suicide, but it is the case that a lack of openness contributes to the consequences for men, and will continue to do so. Connect is clearly attempting to address that without, and here I'll quote from correspondence with Marilyn, giving anyone the opportunity "to discard it as a giant advert".Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2019