Thursday 12 December 2013

Silent Treatment (2013)

Director: Mark Lobatto
Stars: Lily James and Bart Edwards
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
Silent Treatment didn't play next to Apparition at Filmstock, but the two films bear many similarities and play very well as a double bill. Most obviously, as the title suggests, this also plays out without dialogue, though it's accompanied by a well chosen score rather than just ambient sound. It's also fundamentally about human interaction and it has a similar focus on disability. Its unnamed leading lady is deaf, which I wondered Natalie might be in Apparition after my accidental experiment with the mute button. Rather than the daily routine of a train carriage, we're given a stagnant waiting room left to fend for itself by a sleeping receptionist. Where the two films diverge is in how the human interaction works out, which is an inevitable failure in Apparition but a quirky and enjoyable success in Silent Treatment, even after the guy and girl swap unusual first words, not only because they're written not spoken. 'A guy who doesn't listen,' she writes. 'That's original.' He replies, 'A girl who won't talk. That's refreshing.'

I liked Silent Treatment immediately, but it improved. By the time the end credits arrived, I knew I had to see it again to find if it would play even better on a second time through. I found that it certainly did. Lily James plays an enticing young lady, whose posture and pixielike movements are delightful and full of life. She's as out of place in a blisteringly mundane waiting room as a Kandinsky in the crapper. She was new to me, though she's doing well for herself, having moved up quickly from a brief role in Wrath of the Titans through a recurring slot on Downton Abbey to the title role in Kenneth Branagh's new take on Cinderella, due in 2015. Bart Edwards is an able foil for her here, as the similarly unnamed guy who takes an interest in her. He's only acted on TV before, with his most notable part being an eight episode run on EastEnders. It wouldn't surprise me to find this buffering up his demo reel and moving him on to something a lot more substantial on film. Both actors are a joy in a room that's bereft of it.

Mark Lobatto succeeds magnificently here in the second short film he's written and directed; I'll search for Comes But Once a Year now, which he made in 2011. It's a playful piece, without the discovery and depth of Apparition but with a delightful quirkiness and joie de vivre. There's so much neat attention to detail that makes the film worthy of a number of viewings. We're given very little to go on, beyond the general assumption that this waiting room is some sort of hospital. We fill in all the blanks ourselves, if we're not distracted enough to see where they need filling in. I love the underling irony, which is never explained but clearly hinted at, that this couple hit it off magnificently, even though the girl is deaf and the guy is apparently so hooked on music that he can't help but sneak a listen of what the next patient has playing on his headphones, though he's wearing two large and bloodstained wads of cotton wool in his ears. Who says they're a terrible match? As in the best romcoms, love will overcome.

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