An exquisite miniature, or an imaginative debut? A difficult choice. Both fit.

The originality of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s 79-minute feature is never in doubt, as musique concrete washes over the sounds of a wooded glade and figures in slow motion move with silent reverie, like summer dancers. Hemingway once said that what matters in fiction is not what you write, but what you leave out. The story of Helen epitomises this opinion. What you don’t see haunts you.

A girl disappears in the woods. The police arrange a reconstruction of her last known sightings and an 18-year-old student, called Helen (Annie Townsend), is chosen to impersonate her. Shy and unobtrusive, she becomes intrigued by the personality and background of the victim, whose distraught parents emotionally adopt her.

Although this is a whodunit, the crime is never given a name. Helen’s thoughts are used sparingly as a narrative voice-over. “I’ve always wondered what it feels like to have a home to go back to. I mean a proper home.” She has lived the years of her remembered childhood in an orphanage and has never had a boyfriend, never been kissed.

As her character emerges through the alienation of other people’s grief, it is possible to recognise its strength. Deprived and alone, she gains confidence through the persona of a lost teenager whom she has never met.

At times, the film resembles a portrait in stillness, as the camera searches for clues and Helen remains quietly involved, increasingly relevant, as the fate of the alleged victim is replaced in the mind of the audience by the reality of this other girl’s life.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2008
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A missing girl's police reconstruction prompts her proxy to fill in the psychological gaps in herself.

Director: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor

Writer: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor

Starring: Annie Townsend, Sandie Malia, Dennis Jobling, Sonia Saville, Danny Groenland

Year: 2008

Runtime: 79 minutes

Country: UK/Ireland

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