Reviewed by: Chris

"Whatever your feelings about assisted suicide, Relics touches deep emotions common to us all."

Do you need a miractopus? Probably you don’t, even if you happen to know what a miractopus is. But what if you do want something equally unbelievable? Something you hardly dare say? Such as, someone to help you die...

Director Allen uses humour in a surprising and unsettling way to introduce a mini-drama on assisted suicide. There are no sombre Jack Kevorkians. No drawn-out eulogies to the dead and the dying. And no more moralising than you could fit into a small plastic bag.

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Unsettling? Perhaps I have misled you into imagining a dark comedy that suddenly pole-vaults into nightmarishly dangerous areas. But it is unsettling in a curiously positive way. Relics interacts with its audience, employing the whacky, droll storyline to relax us enough to consider its serious subject matter anew. There is none of the morbid seriousness that blights stylised documentaries, nor the distraction of high-profile actors (such as Al Pacino in You Don’t Know Jack).

What we see is something thoroughly entertaining while part of our brains quietly ask, what if this happened to me?

Benjamin is an ingenuous if likeable vacuum cleaner salesman going door-to-door in a middle-class, leafy suburb of the USA. It is some way to go between houses and, as he walks dejectedly from an empty house, he sees the occupants return and hurries back with glee, excited by the prospect of pitching his wares to a new potential customer. Unbeknown to him, the ailing woman of the house has chosen this day to ask her daughter to help her end her own life.

The loving, protective daughter is sceptical, unwilling to help and quite hostile to the miractopus salesman (“It’s not a vacuum cleaner! It’s a Miractopus!”) Things seem to go from bad to worse as Benjamin demonstrates his backpack machine’s ability to suck up dust and dirt that can cause all sorts of illness (he says). But there is a change of emotional pace as the woman gets him alone and seeks his help. The relaxed, light-hearted and unwitting repartee suddenly connects in a moment of sincerity. Benjamin has to ask himself some deep questions and appropriately goes for a walk in the woods.

Jennie Allen's background as a mental health counsellor, before editing, writing and producing films, prepared her well for such difficult and divisive subject matter. It is probably this that distinguishes her approach from that of, say, Lone Scherfig in Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself (whose use of humour and suicide is realistic and amusing while failing to present a convincing case). The story, Allen says, was motivated by two things. “One is that my mother has been sick for several years, and she liked to joke about my father who died very suddenly. ‘Your dad knew how to do it! He was like – poof! And he was gone!’ She makes these jokes about being ill and facing the end of her life. So humour is just one of the ways I approach things. The character of Ben is named after a dear friend of mine who also died a few years ago unfortunately, but had an incredible sense of humour and saw the absurdity and humour in tragic things and in all things, and I hope to honour that with this weird movie.”

Whatever your feelings about assisted suicide, Relics touches deep emotions common to us all. Laughing in the face of loss, finding the power of meaningful connections, and whether a person should be able to decide his or her own fate. “We are all children of loss, and sometimes there is nothing we can do but laugh, and cry, about that.”

Relics has been well-researched, and is a sensitive, uplifting testament to the bravery that can appear, apparently from nowhere, deep in the human spirit. It manages to address in 15 minutes what many longer, big budget films fail to do at all. It dares to think of the possibility of death as a beautiful celebration of life but manages to delight us rather than being burdensome. Its introduction is a little slow but can be forgiven when the wickedly inventive storyline kicks in.

But before you rush out to buy a Miractopus (just in case) or any of the other gadgets in the film, remember they were only designed for Relics.

Reviewed on: 02 Oct 2013
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Relics packshot
A vacuum cleaner salesman is confronted with a difficult request.

Director: Jennie Allen

Writer: Jennie Allen

Starring: Sarah Steele, Marceline Hugot, Seth Kirschner

Year: 2013

Runtime: 14 minutes

Country: US


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