Lysis

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Lysis
"The improvised nature of the script also works in its favour, with the unpredictability for the actors themselves translating to tension on the screen." | Photo: Courtesy of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

The high-concept and high-risk idea behind Rick Ostermann's Lysis is to shoot the story of a father attempting to reconnect with his long-estranged teenage son using only three GoPro cameras manipulated by the actors playing the characters while working from a script outline that was mostly improvised on each day of the 10-day shoot. It's a gamble that pays off in spades and one that will doubtless see the film heading off for a successful hike around the festival circuit in the coming months.

The technique proves simple but effective, as we watch 16-year-old Felix (Louis Hofmann) and his dad (Oliver Masucci) rappell out of a hot air balloon down to a river valley, where they plan to white water raft and camp for a few days, with dad capturing the whole thing on camera. Felix might have come straight from his mother's funeral in his black suit and tie, whereas his dad is all set for outdoor adventure. The disconnect between the two of them is pronounced, with Felix grappling with grief while his father can scarcely contain his joy that he finally has an opportunity to, as he sees, it right the wrongs of his ten-year absence from his son's life.

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Felix is silent, broody and destructive, quickly sabotaging his father's plans, which means the pair of them have to get over their own natures in order to take on nature itself. Ostermann largely avoids the sort of plunging shakey-cam often favoured by mockumentarians. Instead he more often opts for moments when the men are sitting talking or trying to get out of their latest mess. The comparative stillness of these moments, when occasionally cut with 'action' sequences such as white water rafting, helps the brooding emotion of them to hit home. The early stages also offer lesser spotted emotions, such as consternation with a 'pop up' tent that refuses to do the business or the glimmer of schadenfreude in Felix's eye as his father grapples with an 'easy click' gas cooker. The improvised nature of the script also works in its favour, with the unpredictability for the actors themselves translating to tension on the screen. When Felix is giving his father the silent treatment, for example, Masucci genuinely wouldn't have known quite how long this would last - the cameras used could record for up to an hour - and this intensity and uncertainty comes powerfully across.

It also means that when the characters are 'thinking', so are the actors, again adding to the documentary feel. Nature, too, is very much a part of the film, from the ominous sound of distant thunder to the occasional insect crawling over the camera lens. All this adds up to a lot of work for Masucci and Hofmann, and they rise to the challenge, nailing the emotions of the two men, one desperate to connect he barely considers it takes two to do this, while the other is all too fearful of what will happen if he does. Their characters are clearly defined from the outset and the actors stay true to them even as the distance between the men starts to decrease. The cameras are also craftily employed as confessionals - with Felix addressing one as though speaking to his father and his dad, in turn, using it to castigate his dead ex-wife. This insight into the individual psychologies draws us to the characters as we root for them to connect even as we begin to wonder if they are even going to manage to survive. Ostermann's concept may be a high one - and one that has led to three years getting the film from shoot to cinemas - but it fits, and serves, the story perfectly.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2018
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A father takes his estranged son on a rafting trip into the wilderness that suddenly turns into a struggle for survival.

Director: Rick Ostermann

Writer: Rick Ostermann

Starring: Oliver Masucci, Louis Hofmann

Year: 2018

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Germany

Festivals:

Black Nights 2018

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