Review: Light Falls
- The latest directorial effort from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael tries to mask its ugly essence with lots of craft and style
As a cinematographer, Phedon Papamichael is one of the most influential professionals in Hollywood. In his 35-year career, he was nominated for an Oscar twice (for his work on Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7), and he lensed more than 50 more features, including 3:10 to Yuma, Million Dollar Hotel, Ford vs. Ferrari and this year’s blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Papamichael has also tried his luck directing films already, both in the US and in his native Greece, but his previous four efforts could not be deemed successful neither with critics nor with audiences. His fifth directorial attempt, Light Falls [+see also:
interview: Phedon Papamichael
film profile], has just premiered in the Critics’ Picks section of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
Genre-wise, Light Falls could be described as an unpleasant thriller that starts in a different register, as a socially observant drama. We get to follow two sets of characters coming from opposite worlds. Clara (up-and-coming Georgian-American actress Elensio) and Ella (Nini Nebieridze in her first adult screen role) are a couple of Georgian-American tourists that come to an unnamed Greek island for a vacation, to relax and enjoy. On the other hand, brothers Eddy (Juxhin Plovishti) and Altin (Jurgen Marku) along with their cousin Veton (Silvio Goskova) are down on their luck Albanian migrant workers who reside on the island illegally. Those are the guys that would be denied entrance to the club by the bouncer, unable to do nothing about it. On top of that, Veton is regularly harassed by a police officer (Makis Papadimitriou, solid as expected).
The two groups encounter one another in a seemingly abandoned hotel on the hill overlooking the town. It was Clara’s idea to visit the structure, and Ella’s to take the photos of her model girlfriend in it, but their adventure abruptly ends when Ella accidentally falls down the empty elevator shaft. Because the building is squatted by several groups of Albanian part-time workers, Clara encounters the trio while on her quest to save Ella. The language barrier leads to miscommunication, followed by a gruesomely violent act of rape, then retribution.
Rape and revenge, this thriller sub-genre that leans towards horror, is actually very sensitive, making it a difficult to execute in an ethical way. However, the source script by Sven Dagones is simplistic, relegating the characters to usually offensive stereotypes: the young women are presented as arrogant, self-indulging tourists, while the trio of workers are pictured as short-tempered, impulsive savages unable to control their urges, deal with their frustration, or act according to universal norms of ethics. Although Papamichael probably had other things (such as otherness) in mind, the script does not allow its characters — with the exception of the policeman — to act like intelligent human beings. The excessive violence does not feel justified and more cynical viewers could read elements of the plot and characterisation as acts of casual racism.
Craft-wise, Light Falls is a deftly made piece of genre cinema. The camerawork by the director together with Akis Konstantakopoulos is attractive and evocative, the contrasts in lighting are sublime and the soundscape of the film is memorable, thanks both to Nick Athens’ music and the sound design. It’s a shame the insensitive script and the director’s inability or refusal to overturn it seal the fate of the film.
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