Daphne : A Film Review

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Daphne

Directed by Peter Mackie Burns, Produced by Valentina Brazzini, Tristan Goligher
Written by Nico Mensinga. Cast Emily Beecham – Daphne, Geraldine James – Rita, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor – Joe, Nathaniel Martello-White – David, Osy Ikhile – Tom, Sinead Matthews – Billy, Ryan McParland – Jay, additional cast, Ritu Arya – Rachid,  Richard Banks – Cigarette Thief, Gary John Clarke – Homeless Sandwich Guy,  Maurisa Selene Coleman – Friend,  Karina Fernandez – Beth,  Erica Guyatt – Cashier, Timothy Innes – Jimbo, Rania Kurdi – Sofia,  Amra Mallassi -Benny, Stuart McQuarrie – Adam.

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Daphne rules
There are a few Cinema Daphnes about. Nearly as many as the parts Domhall Gleeson inhabits in the film roster presently.  Playing opposite his A.A. Milne and the mother of (Goodbye) Christopher Robin is wife Daphne, the similarly multifarious Margot Robbie. The narrative here is of a single woman, Daphne aged 31, a local in London. Played by Emily Beecham, Daphne’s experience of life is given new perspective as a result of being a witness to an act of brutality.

Her life as a Chef in a busy, no bookings needed restaurant, run by Joe played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor – whose on the spot as a boss and as an irascible potential lover – is a vibrant one on the move with some night life and her scary attitude to sex (but precautions taken!) require her almost daily reading of modern philosophy as self analysis (Slavoj Zizek) in the afterglow of her habits.  The staff are usually knackered but in a response to this modernity of capitalist driven London and servile work on limited rewards they share dope.  It is recreational and supposedly non-threatening to them. We never get to know the backstory or delve into the present story of anyone in particular other than Daphne.  Centrally it is about the demise and nihilistic life taken.

Storyboard

I am therefore I watch. So onward.  It shapes up as being about the people’s present lives and getting along with things. The ‘and then?’ question asked by the novice Ida in the film of that name is studiously evoked in my reading.  Daphne is in some ways in an enviable position, on a career path to become a Sous Chef and up to the challenge with her admired taste buds. She is living alone in a nice house next to the contrasting crowded housing of the borough she lives in.  No mention of money worries is made except for a friend we meet a few times who ends up in a single bed apartment with another girl which is not a platonic relationship.

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Personally alive

This and other scenes point up the contrasts of her life to others and are neat asides of observance throughout never making us sure of whether we are going to like her character or not.  Situations of her either alone at home or with a random pick up are glimpses into someone finding a lack in home existence.  The relative safety and comfort of home is disrupted only her Mum played by the superb Geraldine James who is very alive but holding on with a life threatening disease and her use of mindfulness, Buddhism, is not a reality shared by Daphne.  Daphne is annoyed and at the same time loving towards her quixotic, mindful(ness) de-stressing mother. Anyone else she can deal with in her own home but solitude does not help her once the nightmare intrudes.  It is quite early on when the trauma occurs and it is then a case of where the story will take us.

Altered state

Daphne is slow to realise the effect of a changing shape to what was a life of vitality amidst work colleagues. Having assembled what she was aiming towards in her working life – service to not only customers but society it melts. Joe of the acerbic, Irish cutting driving general steering a loose lively crew is no longer meaningful along with everything else. Daphne begins to act oddly. Any certitudes have been dislodged. Her noisy colourful life was with tools forever lifted to help others happiness and the event which is central to the story has taken its toll.

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Contrasts appear.  Instead of likening her food which she excels in (taste buds only mildly acknowledged as effected by other dubious ingestitaions – drugs) her foodie happiness disintegrates and even eating is a chore.
Now the alternative to the wild exuberance of going out and enjoying herself and meeting her mothers psychological and familial needs are washed up.  The choice turns unappeasingly to alcohol and she eschews her mothers zen like world of adulthood in which she has created a daughter she loves, cherishes and hopes will share her idiosyncratic ways in some way but not cloyingly.  Anxiety, anger and bewilderment come to the fore. The signals she gives are clearly exposed. Daphne needs to express her feelings and several times she is partially allowed to which is where some of the more consequential parts of the story give reward.

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Hope

Part of the problem is her mental enclosure of the harm it has done to her. From a place where having the gift of making delicious meals to enjoy, the embodiment and thrill of sexual pleasures on the outside without to many commitments, produced sufficient temporary joy and escape. Attempts at reading philosophy before and after becomes a drastic recalibration from where she had some fix on or connection before but now she is unable to process or distinguish using whatever is available what things are important and what is fleeting and irreconcilable. It is because she won’t share with anyone the truth behind it or seek help. There is hope however as this itself dawns on her.

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Portents

For a writer to place a dilemma of a young woman’s world being confronted with an act which is random and futile might be difficult to have an audience adhere to. Writer Nico Mensinga and Director Peter Mackie Burns – whose first feature this is – do achieve this through small steps by putting Daphne through the mill. They take her unravelling as a component we connect with and partially empathise with her state. Here is one of the saving graces of the film. Given what script she has to work with – a misfire scene in a kitchen comes to mind as one of a few flaws – Emily Beecham is brilliantly on message and though there are no soliloquies or toxicity – the underscoring of her post traumatic state is not sufficiently persuasive script wise in my view – she offers a parallel imaginative world akin to a Jane Austen or Daphne de Maurier innocent heroine.  There is also a ‘rom’ drama there with the characters Joe – exhaling his love by giving Daphne a bye ball on several counts – a signal unseen – and David (Nathaniel Martello-White) the nightclub doorman Daphne meets persists with his eventful pursuit.

Making it work

Remedies are choices found in life as simple methods producing blocking out mechanisms and we follow the path wondering what effect it would have on whoever found themselves in that place.  Order is not a right.  Change alteration comes with every interaction.  The writing is sharp as is the direction but the former is not exploratory.  At times we see from overhead and long shots Daphne going about the street life busy and quiet in equal measure and recognise her isolation is conveyed.  Gently hope is given and certain reconciliations are brought out as possible routes to improvement.

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As a personality driven film taking persuasively, by excellent acting and direction, the trauma of small events which are not of themselves harmful to her but have a bearing and effect, demanding she process them, is broad reaching and very effectively delivered. Events before and after haunt her giving contrast as an indication of how she is dealing with her embattled mind. Essential focus is brought to Daphne in the Met. Police sponsored professional therapist Adam (Stuart McQuarrie) is brought through as an enabler. It is effectively called upon in the film as a dimension of contemporary experience though it is not always used and lesser mortals may not be up to facing a therapist in a comfortable home with a clinical environment more probable in boroughs where victims are created every five minutes.

Recovery

When she takes on board a therapy session only to find herself challenging the therapists lack of literary taste. One particular trait she throws irrationally at them – I saw another mor alarming one – behind her was among other books a Hillary Mantell volume. Only a demented soul requiring defective history of a form they aquaint with would give HM house room.

Daphne who has fallen into the abyss of a world of hate and harm when the brutal act is witnessed also meets a family, the family of Benny (Amra Mallassi) affected by the event. The family of the actual physical victim are themselves victims. There is another shore and marooned she becomes mentally fraught and things begin unravelling. Her first choice is alcohol. Bewildered, any meaning sought becomes unreliable. The values of friends are brought into disturbing clarity. The effect is completely unsettling and charged. So there is choice on the table and she has to select from a varied menu which challenges her unknowing unencoutered mental emotional tastebuds.

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Footer

Oh, and of Goodbye Christopher Robin, think Post War Mental Trauma, pastoral recovery, genial acting, stepping stones, pooh sticks, intelligent children, estrangement and manipulation of others. The accent is on the embattled duties of parenting in a publicly enhanced living environment where strange priorities take over and wrong choices are made. Another version of nurturing but I will not be embarking on a spiel about ‘Mother’.

Conclusion ###+3+

A promising debut feature. As the story is delivered it manages small notes of drama though some of these are underplayed.  Often, as Daphne becomes something of a reclusive, not able to communicate her troubles and moving on from very halting starts, in relationships and with work, it relies on your transposition of her state of mind.  On levels Daphne picks up on the chemistry of her attractions but shows she is unable to accommodate it in her mind.  The reclusive element presenting after the event is outdoors ‘external’ and not only within her home.  Mentally something has to give.  Disaster or release. This dynamic is the crux of the film’s premise. By only providing through talking aloud dialogue in a few scenes any illustration is partial and lacking gravity.

From the outset (if you’ve not read the above where I have not divulged my conclusion) I have to admit this film was not very engaging.  It only had one particular theme.  The central characters altering state of mind. Although it was a strongly acted piece with a significant beautifully focused Emma Beecham performance, it lacked sufficient insight.  Beyond the external scenes of depression and anxiety it is not cinematically expressed – to do it is very difficult and performance requires some devices to work with.  It requires subtlety, distinctive nods and pointers and not one liners indicating the ‘act’ which was used occasionally and a bit ineptly to show it had residency in Daphne’s mind.  What occurred to me was the question of how would you achieve the more connecting messages cinematically and I thought it is often the use of surreal devices and flashback with viewpoints taken as first person in those elements and thrown out as a vision of what Daphne is experiencing.  This duality of perspective was missing and it is consequently narrowing for this film to tell its story.

Daphne’s grinding spirit is her emotional world.  Emily Beecham is able to express and accomplish it with her reading of the character lifting it up, otherwise it might have been buried in emptiness.  Desires are satiated in her form of lifestyle and she shows these and projects a feisty willingness (making the Scottish connection more acute – the English bottling things up premise?! eschewed the question?!)  Dealing with her mothers pain and rightful need to connect properly with her ‘wild’ spirited daughter is a welcome relationship which Geraldine James does inhabit brilliantly.

On this I think the release – the actual knowledge of her mothers fragile existence and her coping mechanisms – happens to come inward to Daphne.  Here it delivers within the film’s narrative.  As a form of reference – her mothers illness – she uses it as a claim to reality.  Instead of rejecting the troublesome and loosing her ‘thread’ she is converted to owning her anxieties and then seeking opinion and help.  From no-one being around to help except Joe – (Chefs Issues?) Rita, Mum is the obvious ingredient missing as her confidante.  So resolution will it happen?  You will find out if you see this shortish, 1hr 28min. contemporary psychological treatise.  A lot depends on your own experience in filling in the gaps.

 

John Graham

5 October 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from : 06 October 2017 until 12 October 2017

 

 

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