Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Cast No Shadow (dir. Christian Sparkes)

The most comparable film to the new Canadian production Cast No Shadow in its blend of naturalistic story, mythic overlay, and spectacular setting may well be David Lean's underrated 1970 epic Ryan's Daughter. Compare the frame enlargement above to this image from Lean's film:

They could be from the same movie, ne c'est pas? But this similarity is an odd thing. Because on the one hand, we have one of the most gargantuan Hollywood productions of its time - the common (and I think mistaken) complaint was that the setting dwarfed the story - and on the other hand, we have a modestly budgeted independent film. Yet they look and feel somewhat alike, and each is as impressive a piece of film-making as the other. How is this even possible?

I think two conclusions can be drawn. One is that Cast No Shadow's first-time feature director Christian Sparkes and his creative team (special nod to cinematographer Scott McClellan) are craftsmen of a very high order who know how to get the most out of every dollar. Second is that, as with many films by new directors in progressive countries around the world, there was some level of government assistance involved that undoubtedly helped allow this craftsmanship to shine. There is nothing in the United States like the movie ticket taxation schemes in Canada, Germany, and elsewhere that help fund this assisance. My hat's off to nations that actually support their art and artists.

Cast No Shadow is a story about a young boy, Jude Traynor, growing up under difficult circumstances in Newfoundland. His mother is absent (we come to learn why), and his father is a petty criminal and child abuser who selfishly utilizes his son as a drug runner. Jude has escaped somewhat into his imagination, populating the landscape around him with imagined presences - there is one coastal cave he feels certain houses a troll. These fantasies are harmless enough (although very real to him). But he also acts out in much less healthy ways and shows plenty of signs of becoming a young hellion. How will it go for him?

The film is structured as a series of symbolic episodes involving every aspect of coming of age. A good Freudian or Jungian take on it would be well worth reading! (after seeing the film). I don't offer such because (1), I'm not competent to do so, and (2), it would involve spoilers galore. But the material is all there.

Without giving anything away, I can say that if any viewer of the film had been unclear about this symbolic progression towards manhood, the brilliantly mythopoeic final scene should rest any doubts. I was surprised to read a professional reviewer state the "clumsy, almost incoherent climax" is "the work of someone who very badly wants to make a profound statement but doesn't seem to know what he wants to say," when it is precisely the climax that enables the viewer to grasp the complete coherence of the movie from first frame to last. Sparkes and screenwriter Joel Thomas Hynes know exactly what they are saying; it is that reviewer who is trucking in vague formulas.

Appropriately enough given the film's themes, there was a bit of family affair going on in its making. Joel Thomas Hynes, who based the screenplay on his own novella Say Nothing Saw Wood, plays the abusive father, and his son Percy Hynes-White, 11 when the film was shot, plays Jude. The dynamic between them feels completely real, unsurprisingly, and being an actual father and son probably helped them through some very challenging scenes.

Young Hynes-White has rightly been praised extravagantly for his spot-on performance, without which the film couldn't have an nth of the impact. He is going places. The third major player, theater actress Mary-Colin Chisholm, brings major presence to the role of local midwife and "witch" Alfreda.

Cast No Shadow is a classic on arrival, one of the best unheralded films to arrive in a long while. The minute it becomes available on DVD or through streaming services, I urge you to check it out.

1 comment:

  1. Alas, living in The U S A now Dec 2015: no live streaming Rogers.ca or iTunes.ca Hopefully it will move to DVD distribution soon.