The Wanting Mare


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Wanting Mare
"Thematically, it's a hugely ambitious effort."

Three species of untameable mare might be found in the sweltering land of Anmaere, where a woman haunts a lonely beach. The first are the wild horses that run along the coast and form the land's principal export. The second is the sea that cuts it off from the frozen city to which the woman longs to escape. The third is the dream she received from her mother, a dream that has been passed through generations. It's a dream of a time long ago when many things were possible, and when it might have been possible to prevent the world from ending up the way it is.

Do we live in such a time? The question invites contemplation of the scope of past and future; a sense of deep time suffuses this film, even as it preoccupies itself with the course of individual human lives and the ways that we come to reevaluate the people we once were. Thematically, it's a hugely ambitious effort for 30-year-old director Nicholas Ashe Bateman. it's central story spans 60 years, concerning itself with the origins of the woman, her romance with a young criminal who might have the power to help her cross the sea, and the unexpected things that issue from their relationship. Momentary impulsive actions change the course of lives but for the most part the narrative moves slowly, dream-like, at once enchanting viewers and inviting them to feel the frustrations that the characters feel, unable to connect with the world in the ways they wish to.

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If, at times, Anmaere recalls aspects of our own world, its otherness is something more than a visit to Dubrovnik or the mountains of New Zealand might conjure up. This is a world created out of whole cloth. Those who were intrigued by 2004's Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow and have been waiting to see what might emerge from the technology it advanced will be fascinated by Bateman's creation, the bulk of which was put together not on location but in a warehouse. A few brief scenes early on show this space almost as it looks in real life. Elsewhere, it becomes invisible, its walls giving way to distant horizons.

These CGI landscapes are more impressive because of the practical effects work underlying them. Bateman comes from a visual effects background and understands the interdependence of these things. There's superb lighting work by David A Ross, allowing the actors to blend seamlessly into their environment. Audiences used to blockbuster fantasy films might not quite appreciate what they're looking at, but for anyone who appreciates the budgetary limitations of an independently funded feature like this, the scale of what has been achieved is remarkable.

Setting aside its striking visuals, this is an actors' film. The story is slight and may struggle to hold audience attention through the 90 minute running time, but it's beautifully conveyed, particularly in light of the fact that two of its central characters are each played by two actors. They feel wholly consistent across the span of their lives, with no need for re-introduction. There's a bit of text-based scene setting at the start, common enough in the genre, but for the most part Bateman allows us to bear witness rather than relying on direct exposition. The whole thing feels rather like an introduction, full of curiosities waiting to be more fully illuminated, but it's an interesting effort to explore a different sort of story within a fantasy setting and to use the genre as more than just a backdrop for yet another royal melodrama.

Though audiences watching the film's première on small screens may miss out on the full effect, there's a lot to appreciate here - and a promise to explore Anmaere further if it's well enough received. It would be interesting to see what Bateman and his team might achieve with more substantial funds.

The Wanting Mare screened at the Chattanooga Film Festival, which is open to residents of The United States only. Festival badges can be purchased here.

Reviewed on: 23 May 2020
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The Wanting Mare packshot
In Whithren, a line of women pass a recurring dream through multiple generations.

Director: Nicholas Ashe Bateman

Writer: Nicholas Ashe Bateman

Starring: Jordan Monaghan, Josh Clark, Yasamin Keshtkar, Edmond Cofie

Year: 2020

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


Chattanooga 2020

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