Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Sound of my Voice
As it was raining at the beach, I made another visit to the Landmark Cinema in west LA and watched this. If group hugs over pools of vomit and then live earthworms are your thing, then this is for you! No, that gives a very unfair picture of the film. Usually I try not to give too much away, but be warned, this time I have to.
I reviewed Another Earth here, which was Brit Marling's first feature and said then that I felt sure we'd be seeing a lot more of her - here is the next instalment, which she again co-wrote. I like the way this girl thinks - and acts.
Set in Los Angeles (of course) Pete (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are twenty-something would-be investigative film-makers. They are seeking to expose what they deem to be a cult lead by the mysterious Maggie (Brit Marling). The way into the cult is by a selection process and many fail to make the grade. When sufficient 'preparation on the outside' has been achieved, couples are given instructions to drive to a house and use the supplied remote to open the garage, drive in, close the door and wait in the car for further instructions. They are then forced to give over all their belongings, strip and shower with the instruction "be thorough with the soap". They then put on white surgical gowns have their wrists cable-tied, are blindfolded and driven to a different location. On arrival, in another garage, the cable ties are cut and they are led downstairs into a basement where they encounter Klaus (Richard Wharton) who subjects them to the most bizarre handshake routine to feature in cinema. They then join with eight other people - all wearing the same and are invited to bow in worship as Maggie enters the room pulling an oxygen cylinder on wheels behind her. She then goes into a spiel about how disorienting this will be and that the first night is always the hardest but those who have been through it will testify that what lies ahead is well worth the discomfort.
It is obvious that this film is extremely well researched. The rituals, visualisation of the basement, rites of passage and psychobabble that Maggie delivers all feel highly authentic. Maggie claims to be from the year 2054 - from their future. Things have turned a bit apocalyptic and she has come back to select a special band of chosen people to prepare for what lies ahead. It all sounds feasible - even Maggie's apparent weakness is explained by saying that someone from the future is allergic to almost everything of our time - even though it's only 40 years in the future.
The film cuts away to lady checking into a hotel room. Initially she acts most strangely, but it becomes apparent that she is a pro sweeping her room for bugs. Soon afterwards and without explanation, she ends up in the very same sauna that Lorna uses after a swim and initiates a conversation. It is clear the lady knows a lot about Lorna - and Pete and Maggie. It turns out that she is from the Justice Department and that Maggie is a wanted felon. The woman persuades Lorna to set Maggie up - and this she agrees to, without Pete's knowledge.
Away from group sessions worshipping Maggie, Pete remains highly sceptical - although much of the time he makes it appear like a mind-job. Lorna appears more open. Maggie is enchanting - on whichever level you want to operate at. There is more than a hint of some chemistry between Maggie and Pete - or is it just to soften him up? To earn a buck, Pete is a supply teacher at an elementary school. Things get turned upside down when he is invited to a one-to-one with Maggie who ditches the ethereal angelic look, lights up and swigs whisky from a bottle - offering it to Pete. She says she may be from the future but she isn't a saint. Pete smiles and begins to see his scepticism find sound foundation. As the conversation develops, Maggie produces some photographs that feature an eight year-old girl in Pete's class. Pete is astounded as Maggie asks him to bring the girl to him. He refuses as he contemplates the professional consequences. Maggie piles on the pressure eventually revealing that this girl is in fact her mother.
Buoyed by the need to set up Maggie, Lorna encourages Pete to use an upcoming school trip to set up the meeting between the girl and Maggie. Reluctantly he agrees and sets it up through Klaus with strict controls. Things appear to go awry as another 'cult' member appears at the rendezvous and changes things, but the girl and Maggie do meet. Maggie kneels and offers the girl her hand. Eventually she takes it and they begin the elaborate handshake that Klaus has previously used. As they finish, the girl asks "how did you know my secret handsake?" and Maggie tells her "You taught it to me when I was a little girl" at which point the law bust in and Maggie is taken away with Klaus. Pete looks on with incredulity at Lorna whom he assumes set him up. The film ends.
Apparently this is the first instalment of a trilogy and the story is set to continue - which is good. As the film tells its story, it raises many questions of faith, belief and doubt which it quietly parks with the viewer (at least with this viewer). The major one is of course 'is Maggie really a time-traveller?'. Whereas Another World was a film that explored emotions, this film is a psycho-thriller with an emotional twist. As I said, I found it compelling viewing. If you want to see the first 12 minutes in a trailer including diagrams on how to do the handshake, click here. If Maggie is a fellon wanted for armed robbery and arson, how was she able to do the little girl's secret handshake? Perhaps she is from the future......
The film debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival and in interview Marling said
“Playing a cult leader is so far outside of my life,” Marling says. “From an acting perspective, I believed I was from the future, and my doubts were like anyone’s doubts: can I really be an actor or writer? It’s grounded in the mundane and in emotions, but being locked in a time period that’s not your own. As a writer, it’s interesting the way sci-fi can create original juxtapositions in normal human dramas.”
Sci-fi also lets Marling investigate the nature of belief. She notes that both of the films she’s involved with at this year’s Festival are “obsessed with faith.” “In Another Earth, how do you rebuild your life when everything has been burned to ashes?” she asks. “How do you have faith in moving forward as a human being? And in Sound of my Voice, it’s a meditation on belief and the possibility of being more than what the eye can see.”
You can read the whole interview here. I hope we will see a lot more of Brit Malling - she's good. I'll give this 8.5/10.