Some Southern Waters

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Some Southern Waters
"Everything about the film makes clear the time and attention put into it."

When one hears a director compared to David Lynch, one immediately gets one's guard up. Far too many would-be auteurs try to emulate the maestro's style and end up drowning in pseudo-surrealist nonsense. Far too many critics use the reference in a way that merely reveals how little they know about film history. Julian Baner, however, is a rare exception, a man for whom the comparison is apt - in the style and intensity of his work, and in its sometime overreach.

Some Southern Waters is the story of a young musician (Bry Reid) whose girlfriend (Rachel Comeau) dies after taking fright at the sight of a mysterious stranger. That would be enough to unbalance most people for a while, but for him, there are still more disconcerting encounters to come: first and foremost with her double, who is dressed as a mermaid and performing in a fairground show. Increasingly obsessed by this young woman, yet cautioned by best friend and bandmate Beth (Mariah Morgenstern) that "You remind me of my dead girlfriend" is not a line most women will respond well to, he follows her around trying to instigate a relationship and apparently losing his grip on reality as events around him grow increasingly strange.

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Baner is aware of the clich├ęs in his plot and they slide into place like the Brylcreem in his hero's hair; this is as much a story about storytelling as it is a narrative mystery. Dreamlike, it's temporally unstable, structured by way of cycles and repeated motifs. It's stunningly shot by Karim Dakkon. If you watch it at home, please adjust your set to make the most of those deep, luscious blacks and crisp highlights. Judicious use of music adds to the feeling of sensory overload. Together with the fracturing narrative, these factors plunge viewers into an experience parallel to the protagonist's, raising questions about what can and cannot be trusted but also communicating the seductiveness of the dream.

Also worthy of note here is Helen Morales' production design. Incredibly detailed sets enhance add depth to the characters and give the audience a huge amount to look out for on repeating viewings, but the way the lighting foregrounds the actors means they don't distract the first time. The acting is impressive for a small production, which is important because when the film becomes a little too incoherent for its own good, the characters hold our attention. Everything about the film makes clear the time and attention put into it. It's a polished piece of work which illustrates the difference it makes when skilled people work on a project they love.

Ambitious as it is, Some Southern Waters still manages to bits off more than it can chew, but it's a highly promising first feature. Baner is definitely a director worth keeping an eye on, and where this particular effort is concerned, David Lynch should be flattered by the comparison.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2021
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Some Southern Waters packshot
After his girlfriend's death, an aimless musician spirals into a genre-bending fever dream.

Director: Julian Baner

Writer: Julian Baner

Starring: Rachel Comeau, Kahlid Elijah Tapia, Kyra Johnson, Mariah Morgenstern, Daniel Wachs, Bry Reid

Year: 2020

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US

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