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SUNDANCE 2022 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Review: Brian and Charles


- Cabbage is the third protagonist in Jim Archer's sweet story about an inventor and his Hawaii-obsessed robot

Review: Brian and Charles

In Jim Archer's Brian and Charles [+see also:
film profile
, the titular Brian (David Earl) is an inventor. That’s what he tells the film crew following him around, showing them some of the useless things he has built. With 1970s-style glasses obscuring half of his face, he is terribly lonely, like Wallace without Gromit. Stuffing his fridge with butter, he regales his audience with “hilarious” stories about “looking for metal and finding a metal detector.” It is obvious from this Sundance entry that Brian is a mess.

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Things are looking up, though. One discarded mannequin head and one washing machine later, he builds himself a Jim Broadbent-looking robot and he is not alone any more. Charles Petrescu (Chris Hayward, co-writer of the script), as that’s the name he accepts, bringing to mind an ex-Chelsea player, is an odd robot, too – one that gets neck erections seeing Hawaii for the first time on TV. It's funny how quickly he gets bored of the kind of life that Brian has led for years, forcing him to re-examine some of his choices. The way he sees it, all you get here is a small place full of friendless people, terrorised by one bully, with sad eyes and old wool sweaters. Charles doesn’t want to be Brian’s pet, left at home all the time and forced to wait for his owner. He wants adventures and excitement, and that’s where they clash.

It's all delightfully melancholic, even though Jim Archer’s world feels like an unaired episode of Hoarders at times – you can taste the dust covering all these half-broken trinkets and egg belts. Earl is just as lovely as Brian, threading that very fine line between village idiot and gentle genius, assuring everyone who would listen that building a robot is like baking a cake. But apart from his Frankenstein-like creation (who is also a wannabe crossdresser, it seems, sadly not allowed to really experiment with fashion), the story is almost too simple, the stakes too low and a romantic subplot never convinces, although it does lead to a scene when one person tells the other that “his candy floss is shaking.” It’s almost as if the whole team was scrambling to make this story – based on a 2017 short of the same name – just a little bit longer.

At least they have fun with it, and with all the cabbage, used here in such quantities that the production team surely had gotten some kind of a deal before shooting. Understandably so, as the vegetable clearly has cinematic potential and an impressive range, ending up brutally murdered in Berberian Sound Studio, earning Tsai Ming-liang an award in Venice or pushing the aforementioned Wallace to brainwash the bunnies with the mantra of “Say no to carrots, cabbage and cauliflower” in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It also turns the film into a much lighter story, with “put the cabbage down!” chosen as this film’s ultimate verbal threat. Then again, this could inspire many kids, so approach veggie stands with caution from now on.

There is something parental about the relationship portrayed here, with Brian unable to understand why Charles would want to do something else with his life. For him, it’s enough – as long as he can build things and maybe finally talk to that shy redhead girl, he is fine. Shot as a mockumentary, with Brian (and Charles) often staring at the camera and addressing their invisible crew, it turns into a story about learning to understand that loving someone means giving them freedom, echoing that famous, desperate plea of “You could be happy here, I could take care of you. We could grow up together, E.T.” Although this time, it’s not about phoning home; it’s about going to Honolulu.

Brian and Charles was produced by Rupert Majendie. BFI Films, Film4 and Mr. Box produced, and the world sales are handled by Bankside Films.

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