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