Given that contemporary filmmaking in Britain continues to be comprised largely of stale costume dramas and gangster thrillers, cheap carbon copies of American horror movies and grim social realist stories either made by or made in the style of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, this genre-defying British film comes as a very welcome breath of fresh air. It’s a smartly conceived and masterfully executed drama that owes a debt to neither home-grown nor Hollywood films, but to European cinema, most obviously the elegant cinematography of Michaelangelo Antonioni and the stark storytelling of Robert Bresson. As such, Helen is as far removed from commercial filmmaking as arthouse cinema gets, which is not to say it’s a difficult film – quite the opposite, in fact: it’s an enormously satisfying experience.
When teenager Helen (Annie Townsend) agrees to help a police investigation by playing a missing girl in a reconstruction of the hours leading up to her disappearance, she begins to assume more and more of the vanished girl’s traits.
It’s strangely engrossing stuff, at once mundane and mysterious. The beguiling effect of the film originates from the long widescreen takes beautifully designed by cinematographer Ole Birkeland, the oddly stylised inert acting from a nevertheless generally non-professional cast, and the meditation upon the themes of loss, identity and change as developed by co-writer/directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy.
Cameo, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 15 May.