Life Just Is
British debut film from Alex Barrett about a group of London graduates
Focusing on a group of graduates living in London, Alex Barrett’s feature debut gets caught between placing itself within the context of bigger questions of the meaning of life with the smaller demands of looking for a job after graduating. Barrett is very good on a jocular uncertainty in English society and the social conventions people accept to fit in, but he also has bigger metaphysical fish to fry, and he here he looks like he wants to pull off a middle-class Mike Leigh movie but written by Kierkegaard.
Indeed it is Kierkegaard that one of the characters, Pete, is reading as he goes through a spiritual crisis, often hovering around the frame and in the house trying to give life a spiritual substance that his friends feel under no obligation to demand. But perhaps this type of metaphysical ambition needs a bolder style than Barratt’s film possesses, something closer to von Trier, Dumont and Reygadas than to the albeit brilliant Leigh, Joanna Hogg or any other British chronicler of social mores.
There are occasional moments where Barrett finds a correlative for Pete’s spiritual crisis, some quick editing in a generally long take film when Pete wakes up restlessly at three in the morning, and more especially in a scene where Pete’s shown in an isolated shot, his head against a light wall suggesting the flatness of a religious icon painting. However, it is as if Pete’s crisis is too easily absorbed into the social flow of the film, as if the film hadn’t quite found the right tone between gravity and grace. It is also there in moments where the characters discuss a friend’s death but quickly moves on to trivial matters. Critic Brad Stevens reckoned this was promise achieved. It’s fair from the point of view of modest drama. But if Barrett sees himself as a spiritually-inclined director more than socially-oriented, then there is still much work to be done in being more reckless and adventurous in the form, in finding fresh ways to capture what Paul Schrader calls ‘the transcendental style’ in film.
Life Just Is screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012.