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Review: The Martini Shot


- Stephen Wallis’s supernatural existential drama is one of a kind: it speaks about creation, art, life, death, friendship and love, and does so beautifully

Review: The Martini Shot
Matthew Modine in The Martini Shot

These days, it’s extremely rare to find such a small film with such a big heart. With tact, creativity and simplicity, Stephen Wallis has crafted a beautiful picture about life, death, love and art titled The Martini Shot, which was world-premiered in the Irish Cinema strand of this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

The Martini Shot follows Steve (veteran thesp Matthew Modine), an ailing film director who is attempting to shoot his last feature before his demise. In his portrayal, Modine imbues his role with irony, tenderness, mystery, and sometimes even arrogance and recklessness, crafting a very mysterious – yet pleasant and amicable – character. From the beginning, it’s quite clear that what we’re seeing is unlikely to be real, or to reflect some kind of realistic time-space dimension.

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Besides this, Wallis doesn’t hide the fascinating yet confounding nature of the motion picture itself and opens the movie with a compelling monologue which sees Steve on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, speaking about how empathy and irony differ when a character is framed from different distances. “The answer is simple: there’s no truth. There’s only perception, and all of us are banging against the walls of these illusions hoping to find truths that don’t exist and never did,” he says, perhaps anticipating the whole point of this story.

Rural Ireland is the grandiose setting for this supernatural journey, and its striking, ethereal beauty is used almost as a “non-place” here, where anything is possible, and nothing is (entirely) real. That being said, we realise that Steve is aware of his impending demise, which he keeps on referring to as “finality”. The story’s focus on the meaning of one’s life and living one’s last days in the best way possible very much justifies the choice of this term.

Along the way, Steve will be accompanied by a series of peculiar characters. Each of them will give him the opportunity to explore – or just scratch the surface of – a particular theme, reconsider his past and talk about the future, whatever that means in the film’s context (maybe the afterlife?). Among these powerful characters, his daughter Rose (Cat Hostick), his favourite actors Errol (Derek Jacobi) and Philip (Stuart Townsend), and his assistant Mary (Fiona Glascott) stand out.

While the clock is ticking, Steve repeatedly stumbles upon a young, provocative therapist (Morgana Robinson) and a cryptic doctor (John Cleese), both of whom try to shake up Steve’s beliefs.

All in all, what works best in this film is the ample room left for multiple interpretations owing to its predominantly fragmented style. During the viewing experience, the audience may feel disorientated at first, but once they understand Wallis’s main intent to lead them to an otherworldly dimension (where things aren’t explained but the events we see still convey feelings), they may choose to go with the flow and open their hearts up to Steve’s “philosophical”, oneiric universe.

Moreover, it is worth mentioning that Wallis has assembled a great cast to tell this story. His dialogues are brilliant and poetic, and the wrong actors could literally have destroyed the project. Luckily enough, they all manage to strike a balance between abstraction, emotion and intelligibility. Technically speaking, Wallis’s feature is characterised by Alain Mayrand’s soothing instrumental score along with a bright, reassuring colour palette and a rather audacious editing approach which fits the unconventional tone of this tale (both courtesy of Russ De Jong).

The Martini Shot was produced by Canada’s Indie Magic Studios and Ireland’s Babyjane Productions. Canada’s Double Dutch International is in charge of its international sales.

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