The Marriage of Reason And Squalor


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

'I love collaborating with musicians who do stuff that I wouldn't have thought of. I felt that with Dinos'
"In short, there's a lot going on but very little of it feels fresh."

Artists the Chapman Brothers - Jake and Dinos - have become known for a level of grotesque and fusion in their work, elements that come to the fore in Jake's first foray into full-length filmmaking. Adapting from his own romance novel pastiche The Marriage Of Reason And Squalor, this film - commissioned by Sky Arts as a four-part series but cut together as a film for show at Edinburgh Film Festival and international release - offers up the surreal love life of its heroine Chlamydia Love for inspection.

In the film version, she's known as Lydia (although her sniping colleagues refer to her by the more derogatory nickname), a naif sort who appears to have taken only people who hate her out for her hen night. She's set to marry a marvellous surgeon Algernon Hertz, who may well have brought her back from 'the brink', not that else anyone believes that he exists. Stumbling into a night club loo midway through the night, she undergoes something of a Trainspotting moment and finds herself suddenly transported to the tropical island of Morass. Supposedly a paradise - an idea Chapman constantly undercuts - it is here she meets the grotesque Helmut Mandragorass, his bulbous head recalling the Tefal-man adverts of the 80s, topped off by a Bobby Charlton combover. Could this mysterious mountain-dwelling reclusive writer steal Lydia's heart from Hertz - and does any of this matter if it's all in her mind?

Copy picture

In short, there's a lot going on but very little of it feels fresh. To be fair, there is almost certain to be a 'been there, done that' feel to romance pastiche, given that it has been a popular literary sport at least since Henry Fielding's satirical burlesque Shamela took the P out of Pamela back in 1741. The trouble is, that the further the film runs, the more it reminds you of other, better, films and TV series. The troubled mental state, which possibly hinges on some form of operation, for example - and which features a distinctly Lynchian body horror element - feels like a much less subtle version of that depicted in 1986 mini-series The Singing Detective. Moments involving decaying food and staginess, meanwhile, recall Peter Greenaway, only without the restraint or fiercely controlled elegance, and the grotesque aspect of Mandragorass, in particular, gives him the air of a watered down Mervyn Peake creation.

Ilan Eshkeri's score - written in collaboration with Dinos Chapman - has a subtle subversiveness that unfortunately doesn't extend to the script, which feels constantly torn between a desire to explore psychological ground and an urge to simply explore the next set of visuals.

The result remains occasionally striking in terms of look and Sophie Kennedy Clarke and Rhys Ifans bring an impressive amount of emotional weight to roles which could have easily become lost amid all the staginess, but there's no escaping the lack of originality.

Reviewed on: 14 Jul 2015
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A woman finds forbidden romance on a tropical island given to her by her husband-to-be.

Director: Jake Chapman

Writer: Jake Chapman, Brock Norman Brock

Starring: Noma Dumezweni, Rhys Ifans, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Ronni Ancona, Michael Fitzgerald, Kellie Shirley, Jenny Eclair, Rudy Valentino Grant, Chloe Hayward

Year: 2015

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2015

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