a beautiful, visually compelling and fully realised film populated by very real and very flawed people
This intimate, stylish tale of young lovers on a weekend getaway — one a touring jazz musician and the other a woman he has met on the road — has the loose, improvisatory feel of a Charlie Parker riff. Life as jazz. Cinema as bebop. Love as sometimes dangerous duet. Director Justin John Doherty and writer Neil Fox capture something both very specific and also universal about the first flush of love in all its wonder and fragility.
The fault lines in an apparently blissful relationship are exposed with accuracy and sensitivity in Wilderness, a film which pulls off the trick of including a lot of smart, insightful dialogue without seeming theatrical or overly talky. The characters may express themselves in words, often with explosive results, but the real story is being told by the watchful camera, the restless jazz soundtrack and the editing with its Nicolas Roeg-like temporal fractures and ambiguities. (Not for nothing is each line in the opening credits followed by an ellipsis: this is a film resistant on every level to the comforts of closure.) Two suspenseful scenes in particular, both of them set on a beach, will stick in the memory of those who see Wilderness, for the way in which they embody the sense of an idyll disintegrating before our eyes; the beauty of the locations only compounds the pain of the drama. It’s a truthful film that is often very close to the bone. It is this honesty, as well as the care with which the material has been shaped cinematically, that gives Wilderness its specific power.
The shadow of indie film pioneer John Cassavetes hangs heavily over the film, as it presents problematic characters whose inner lives and desires are not easily understood. Davenport was presented with the best actress award at the London Indie festival, for her portrayal of Alice – well deserved, as it was her brave, naturalistic performance that made a difficult and not always likeable character still compelling to watch. The film is a thoughtful study of the construction of a passionate, yet fragile relationship, and an examination of how infatuation can make one behave in ways which are confusing to oneself, as well as to others.
It reminds me of those French films that move like snails and everybody says nothing happens, but they are actually packed with so much character-driven conflict. The characters were dynamic and believable, and so was the writing. I think the most innovative thing about this film was its use of images and close-ups to an extreme extent during intimate or intense moments, making the viewer feel as though they are also closed inside the world. The images are telling in terms of foreshadow and also personal emotions as they set the tone and use some interesting symbolism. The ending was very satisfying as it matched the tone of the entire film and compacted it together, almost giving us a sense that this relationship is eternal as well as universal and could be had anywhere.
WILDERNESS was at its most powerful in the silent scenes. John is a jazz musician, and jazz music infuses the film, and in a way so does the improvisational nature of jazz. I don’t actually know if much of the film was improvised, but it’s about the improvisational nature of a new-ish relationship, this time with Alice. Feeling each other out. Hoping they’re “the one” but terrified that it won’t work. I’ve written before about how a hallmark of a great Cinequest film (or great films in general) is “emotional honesty,” and this film has it. In a Hollywood film, there would be a big, dramatic reason for their fight, instead of little things and the honeymoon bloom of new love just wearing off and fading against more realistic concerns.