Narrow Gauge

Narrow Gauge


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

They cannot have a baby. Will and Jeanne, he with his trains, she largely ignored. There are tensions. There are many forms of them. There is his retreat to the shed, his 'layout' in the argot, a swirl of trains and minutiae. There is a messy dinner party with friends Anne and Brian, he uncommunicative, friends-in-law, she pregnant, a weight on a few minds.

Then there is the rat.

It, she, is also pregnant, but we'll get to that. It scrabbles around. It comes to linger in the house, until Jeanne is driven from it. It consumes, conquers, until one starts to wonder if the rat is wholly real or an avatar of internal disquiet, a sort of bijou Moby Dick.

It features, almost inevitably, tilt-shifting - that suddenly internet popular lensing technique that gives the large the sense of the miniature. It's not the only bit of art, but the rest of the framing is subtler, better done - doorways, arches, windows, hedges - there's a real sense of constraint, of boundaries - tracks. The spirit-level adjusted bird-house is one thing, but there might even be semiotic significance in the presence of a Land Rover Freelander. Certainly, plugging away on a treadmill on a conservatory, looking out over a field bounded by trees, there's a sense of constraint, of limits. Under umbrellas, live crabs in the sink, the sky painted on shutters, "We got a letter from the clinic today Will. They say we've left things too late." There's even a fence in the forest.

Narrow Gauge is directed and adapted by Joseph Briffa, who also edits, and he's aided by cinematographer and previous collaborator Petter Holmern Halvorsen; together they create a very distinct visual style. Anna Montgomery's models, Malcolm Lindsay's score, and Connor McDermott's fight coordination all play important parts too.

The small cast (and the rat) offer good performances, Lindsey Danvers (from one-hit wonders Toto Coelo) manages well opposite Eric Robertson's blankness, and Jane Stabler and Paul Nivison appear to have just the right chemistry as her friends.

It's apparently based on the story My Hitler by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It appears in The Push Man & Other Stories, which would be a graphic novel if it weren't an anthology. While Tatsumi apparently has a film based on his life and works coming in 2011, it took an awful lot of tracking down to convince your reviewer that this film bears any resemblance whatsoever to said story. It does, however, and much better than Age Of Dragons - it changes location, tone, and once you know that it's based on manga the poise with which each scene is framed starts to make even more sense. Tatsumi is a creator of some critical reputation, but there's a hyper obscurity. That's not to cheapen it, however - the traps here are as subtly drawn as those of Four Minutes or The Cage. Narrow Gauge is small in scale, but tightly wound and with a keen eye for detail. As its protagonist goes off the rails it does well to follow him.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2011
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A couple struggling with their inability to have a baby are haunted by a rat in the walls.
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Director: Joseph Briffa

Writer: Joseph Briffa, based on the short story My Hitler by Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Starring: Lindsey Danvers, Eric Robertson, Jane Stabler, Paul Nivison

Year: 2010

Runtime: 22 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2011

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