I’m part of a generation who were introduced to arthouse cinema thanks to Channel 4 and their clever trick of having a red triangle in the corner of the screen promising sex and violence, possibly together, in the forthcoming feature, before showing some of Europe’s finest alternative cinema.
Of course the ‘action’ was always tame, but on the following Monday morning schools the length and breadth of the country in the mid 1980s were full of teens discussing the merits of Jan Svankmajer, Scandinavian realism, exactly how funny French surreal comedy Themroc actually was (the answer, not so much), and if it was worth turning the TV on its side to get the full effect of Andy Warhol’s Empire State Building.
I’m a big fan of most films which try something different, even when it fails spectacularly, sometimes especially so. It’s something that Scottish film has done well in recent decades. The most widely praised, if not necessarily known, Scottish arthouse filmmaker is probably Bill Douglas who directed the Childhood Trilogy and Comrades, and there is little doubt that his influence is still felt today. His films were almost dialogue free and beautifully filmed, concentrating on showing rather than telling stories.
Arthouse films can alternatively be called ‘festival films’, those which are shown around the world in places like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, etc. Films such as Red Road, The Magdalene Sisters, Ratcatcher, Young Adam, My Name Is Joe and this year’s Shell have all won prizes and found audiences on the festival circuit, and filmmakers such as Peter Mullen, Lynne Ramsay, David Mackenzie, Richard Jobson, Scott Graham and even Peter Capaldi have had their reputations made to an extent with arthouse films, and all of the above can be said to have followed Douglas’s template to some degree. You could say that this is the type of cinema that Scots film makers do better than any other.
In 2006 Lyre Productions made the flawed, yet beautiful, The Inheritance, about two estranged brothers who take a road trip together. They followed that with 2011’s The Space Between, written, directed and starring Tim Barrow. Once again it is a wonderful film to look at, and the lack of dialogue works very well. In fact I would have rather the whole thing was silent, as that is where the film excels.
It’s been described as a love story, but it’s a loss story. Two strangers struggle to deal with personal tragedy and this common despair is what binds them. They don’t want, and I’m not sure they even need, each other, but it eventually seems easier to be together than alone. Although they find a form of comfort in each other you are left with the feeling this is unlikely to last. Their emotions are still too raw to let anyone too close, and although there are some beautiful moments the two share together, they still seem detatched. Or maybe I was just feeling cynical when I watched it.
The best thing about the film, apart from the cinematography, is the performance of Vivien Reid as Lisa, who brings a believable emotion to the part that her partner in grief, director Tim Barrow as Steven, can’t quite match. I was talking to a director friend of mine about this film and he said that he can’t imagine being on both sides of the camera. Of course, there are great examples of people doing so magnificently, but not that many. Here Barrow shows he can direct, and there are memorable images which he captures with an artist’s eye, but he is in the shadow of Reid when it comes to the acting.
The film avoids most of the cliches of Edinburgh, and as a result is a fresh look at the city. There is little doubt that Barrow loves Edinburgh, warts and all, and wants others to share this. Of the filmmakers named above only Jobson has used Edinburgh in a similar manner, and his A Woman In Winter, which is a hugely underated film, would make an interesting, if harrowing, double bill with The Space Between, showing Edinburgh at its best and humanity at its most desperate.
Here is the trailer:
And here are Vivien Reid and Tim Barrow at a Q&A at the London Premiere giving some personal insight into the film:
It is heartening to see that films such as The Space Between, Peter Mackie Burns’ Come Closer and Cora Bissett’s multi-platform Whatever Gets You Through The Night continue to get made against the financial odds. Each one of these films show us a little bit more about Scotland’s people and places and that can never be a bad thing. The more we see, the more we understand.