Film Review: Second Spring

Read Time:2 Minute, 35 Second

★★★★☆

Degenerating health and the nearing horizon of mortality are handled sensitively in director Andy Kelleher’s lyrical debut fiction feature. Second Spring is a film about endurance and acceptance, tackling its subject matter with quiet poise where a lesser film might have fallen to mawkish sentiment.

Archaeologist Kathy Deane, (Cathy Naden) is passionate, intelligent and attractive, eagerly pursuing Nick (Jerry Killick), drawn to his knackered old beamer and soft confidence after she spots him on the university campus where she lectures. Her open marriage with Tim (Matthew Jure) is essentially loveless but functional. As she puts it, they were never really in love, but they “do like each other”.

There is something niggling at the back of this complex picture, however, a seed of anxiety watered by her short temper with Tim, a suddenly-awakened libido and a memory lapse in the middle of a lecture. That unease is subtly captured by Jonas Mortensen’s tactile cinematography, captured on a mixture of grainy 16 and 35mm (notable, rather sadly, for being the last ever film to be shot of Fujifilm) in a slightly boxy 1.66:1 aspect ratio.

The colour of such lovely film stock positively hums: we open on the intense primary yellow of a field of rapeseed, transitioning to the green of the campus lawn and finally to the red of the lecture theatre. Only Kathy is shot in grey, framed by the concrete of a building as if the vitality of the world is about to be kept just out of reach.

In these early scenes, Mortensen’s camera hangs back in medium shots, observing Kathy from the perspective of Nick as she gazes at him, or as a student as she falters at her lecture. Naden’s performance is restrained and contemplative; her thoughts remain her own while her sense of self is tied to her private agency. As Kathy’s behaviour becomes more unusual – rude, ignorant, impulsive – we’re left to grasp at explanations as Tim and friend Trish (Indra Ové) try to convince Kathy to see a doctor as she resists them in her denial.

Halfway through the film she finally gets her diagnosis: a rare form of dementia called frontotemporal degeneration which affects sex drive, empathy and other higher functions. Following her appointment, Kathy sits in shock in her garden while Peter Zummo’s romantic score falls into discordance. It’s a moment more akin to body horror than a grounded drama, yet that is exactly what this is: Kathy is losing control of her self, and her body – emphasised in key moments throughout the film – as horribly as any invasive alien monster.

A weekend trip to the country with Nick brings things to a head, offering tense resolutions among the bucolic poesy, with Kathy insulting Nick and becoming unduly concerned with the possible construction of an airport that will wreck the local estuary – but with a tenacity that resists passive defeat. Second Spring’s contemplative tone is perfectly suited to its humane study of illness, ignoring easy narrative resolutions to instead seek imperfect but complex emotional acceptance.

Christopher Machell

Film Review: Sing Me a Song

Read Time:2 Minute, 36 Second

★★☆☆☆

Eight-year-old Peyangki lives in Bhutan, in one of the of the remotest villages in the world. As he trains diligently to become a Buddhist monk, the imminent arrival of electricity in the village and a proper road to the city promises progress and anxiety in equal measure.

Ten years later, Peyangki is now eighteen and electricity has arrived, bringing with it the connection and distraction of smartphones. Much of this documentary sequel to to Thomas Balmès’ 2013 film Happiness is beautiful and humane, but is more often simplistic and questionable in its exploration of the impact of technology on a traditional society.

There’s no question that Balmès’ film is at once gorgeous and haunting, capturing both the sublimity of the Bhutanese mountain ranges and the grimy neon of its cities with equal force. The way he connects the people to their landscape is visceral: the fabric of Peyangki’s robes is positively tactile, while the wind that whips through his villagers tells of generations of lives lived hard with the landscape. Sing Me a Song is at its best as an aesthetic experience over a straightforward factual one.

But therein lies its problem. So enamoured is Balmès’ film in the sublime purity of this village untouched by western progress that it indulges in questionable tropes that have their roots in Orientalist and noble-savage discourses. The first shot after the ten-year time jump starts on one young monk praying, slowly pulling back on a line of them, all of whom are singing while simultaneously glued to their phones. Variations on this shot are repeated throughout the film, usually accompanied with sinister music. Accordingly, Sing Me a Song’s engagement with the arrival of electronic communication in the monks’ lives rarely rises above the level of moralistic hand-wringing.

Sing Me a Song revels in the untouched beauty of Peyangki’s village and laments its corruption by western models of progress. But it misses the irony that its lamentation derives, too, from western assumptions about the mysticism of the far east. Nevertheless, its moments of emotional authenticity, though wedged in between the film’s pearl-clutching, do retrieve Sing Me a Song from exclusive stereotyping.

The main thread in the latter half of the film has Peyangki pursue a girl living in the capital of Thimphu at the expense of his studies, only to find when he gets there that all is not as promised. His quiet devastation as he sits sulkily beside her is recognisable to anyone who remembers having their adolescent heart broken, as is the brutal realisation that he really has ballsed things up quite spectacularly. In these moments, Sing Me a Song effortlessly captures the common humanity of life’s mundane experiences.

It’s such a shame, then, that it just as effortlessly undoes its own observations by not understanding Peyangki’s troubles as a complex person in a specific cultural context. Instead, Sing Me a Song transforms him into an avatar for us as westerners to transpose our anxieties about the influence of phones and violent video games on our own lives.

Christopher Machell