- Nikki Baughan
- 14 January 2019
City living is at the heart of an admirable if uneven anthology film, featuring Juliet Stevenson
Bringing together several new filmmakers, working alongside film schools, East London community film hub Four Corners and frontline organisations including the Refugee Journalist Project and Migrant Resource Centre, the low budget London Unplugged delivers a gritty, credible tapestry of contemporary city living through ten vignettes. As with most anthology films, it's something of an uneven experience, but linking themes of alienation, opportunity and change, together with its admirable creative and cultural ambitions are strong enough to make it a diverting whole.
The most successful segments are those which take a straight-on, clear-eyed view of the realities of modern life. Mitchell Crawford's exceptional line-drawn, bass-driven animation 'Club Drunk', for example, details an after-dark playground which can pivot from anonymous to intimate in the space of several drinks. Similarly, George Taylor's beguiling opener 'Dog Days', which paints London by night as a neon-lit fairyland, proves that connection is still possible in a metropolis of strangers, while in Layke Anderson's 'Shopping' it's a surprisingly astute soliloquy from a sex shop owner that reminds us to be grateful for what we have.
Elsewhere, a number of the filmmakers focus on the wealth and class divides which still segment the city. In Nick Cohen and Ben Jacobson's well-observed 'Unchosen', a desperate Iranian refugee fights for asylum. The struggling singer of Rosanna Lowe's 'Pictures' – an adaptation of Katherine Mansfield's 1917 short story – feels forced into an uncomfortable situation by economic necessity. In Andres Heger-Bratterud's 'The Door To', a downtrodden call centre worker becomes obsessed with infiltrating an exclusive members' club. Similarly, Qi Zhang, Natalia Casali and Kaki Wong's 'Mudan Blossom' uses humour to explore the city's affordable housing crisis.
Among the less successful segments, George Taylor's horror-inspired 'Felines' is bolstered by a brilliant performance from Juliet Stevenson as a cat-loving carer, while Andrew Cryan's 'Little Sarah's Big Adventure', in which a toddler explores London alone, initially feels like an attack on working mothers but reveals itself to be a neat fantasy. Final short 'Kew Gardens', which sees Nick Cohen adapt Virginia Woolf's short story and 1919 Londoners mix among the present day, proves a somewhat dry finish.
Yet to Cohen belongs the film's greatest strength: an interlinking interview with a real-life female athlete, an immigrant herself, whose epic run from east to west links these stories together. Her experiences give a powerful sense of the city as both opportunity and oppressor, and underscore the film's authentic voice.
Selected release from Fri 18 Jan.