UK 2004 (copyright date 2003) : Eleanor YULE : 91 mins
A heady brew of modern farmhouse-gothic set in the wilds of Scotland, Blinded treads familiar loamy turf with a fair measure of assurance. Making her feature debut after a string of small-screen documentaries, writer-director Yule harks back to literary sources: this is essentially the same tale told in (among others) Zola’s Therese Raquin then transplanted to America in Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and Wharton’s Ethan Frome. The basic set-up features a married couple mismatched in age and temperament, who live in some remote dwelling. When a young, virile newcomer arrives on the scene, passions are stirred with inevitably tragic consequences.
Here the disruptive outsider is abstract-sculptor Mike Hammershoi (Anders W Berthelsen), who’s fled his native Denmark because of unspecified, perhaps criminal events. Seeking odd-job work in chilly Ayrshire, he’s directed to the farm presided over by blind Francis Black (Peter Mullan), a formidable, short-tempered tyrant. Francis sets Mike to work disposing of old mechanical equipment by throwing it into a seemingly bottomless sludge-pit. When Mike gradually befriends Francis’s much younger, sexually-repressed wife Rachel (Jodhi May), long-dormant emotions are awakened…
Yule has said that she chose to call Mike “Hammershoi” as a reference to a Danish painter of the same name, who specialised in the kind of gloomy interior compositions reproduced here Jerry Kelly’s digital-video cinematography. Black’s farmhouse is thus a dour zone of greys and pallid browns – it’s as if all colour and life had been leached out of the environment by Francis, an angry black hole spewing out negative energy. This makes the film intriguing to look at, while we remain attentive to the plot convolutions thanks largely to the effectively contrasting performances by leads Mullan, Berthelsen and May.
But the script struggles to strike a workable balance between the fairytale/fable aspects of the heady plot (we see a Hans Christian Andersen book lying around) and the more mundane concerns of everyday practicality. This kind of mysterious, deliberately overwrought melodrama is very hard to pull off in contemporary settings, and it doesn’t help that the pace is occasionally a little ponderous, the dialogue a touch stilted. While the twists and turns of Blinded may make psychological and allegorical sense, the film feels too implausibly contrived, too schematic in its bitter ironies, for us to fully sympathise with the characters’ plight.
15th September, 2004
(seen 27th August : UGC Edinburgh : press show – Edinburgh Film Festival)
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by Neil Young