Look Both Ways at the Dendy, Newtown

Michael being overseas for a while, I had a chance to catch up with Look Both Ways, which he didn’t want to see. I’m so glad I managed to get to it.

I particularly loved the way most people were a bit inarticulate, especially when it came to expressing emotions: Meryl distancing herself by making (rather lame) jokes, Nick not knowing how to tell his mother he has cancer, and Phil’s awkwardness with Nick. What do you say when someone tells you they have cancer? Probably completely the wrong thing.

I thought the film made a fantastic use of scenes without dialogue, or where the dialogue merely heightened what was not being said. Without any voice over or anything, you still knew exactly what the characters were thinking and going through. And the subplots of the train driver and the girlfriend were just extraordinary. Not a word spoken, but the stories unfolding with perfect clarity. So when they finally spoke right at the end it was incredibly powerful and moving – even though the actual words were banal in the extreme. On the one hand, it showed that there are times when words are simply inadequate; and on the other, it showed that they can also be unnecessary. Without either character laying bare their emotions, they nevertheless were able to connect and understand each other, and to offer and receive comfort.

For me, the animated sequences worked really well. They showed the characters thoughts so much more clearly and succinctly than a voice over could have – and how many of us really think those sort of thoughts in words, anyway? And I loved the contrast between Meryl thinking in hand drawn animation, and Nick thinking in photo-montage or CGI – it fitted so well with their personalities.

Normally I have trouble with films that have a large cast with different, interconnecting stories, but not this time. I had no difficulty remembering who was who, and what was happening with them. From the major players through to the most peripheral bit parts, there were so many different versions of “I hate my life”, and so many different ways of working through it – it felt like a rich (and intensely Australian) tapestry. And I really cared about all the characters.

The reason Michael didn’t want to see this film is that he thought it would be depressing. Which it kind of was. But at the same time I found it uplifting. It wasn’t one of those suburban dramas where everything is horrible, and the characters have no way of escaping, and everything they do only makes things worse and more inescapable. It felt much more like it was about real people with real problems – some larger than others – that they were ultimately able to deal with. Probably it was a bit unrealistic that everybody came to terms with what was happening to them – in real life, many people do fall by the wayside. And, of course, things could have gone very differently for Meryl and Nick, regardless of how well they coped at an emotional level. But the sense I got out of the film was that, no matter what life throws at you, you just go on – and there’s a good chance things may work out in the end.

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