The themes of this part-animated, part-live action musing on grief and fantasy speak louder than its construction should permit.
Beware the weekend reunion shared by old pals turned angry and unfulfilled by middle age. If ever a setting was rife for revelations of the type all films frequently seem to think people of at a certain life stage must face, it's this one. Such a narrative construct not only raises tensions, but also acts as a catalyst for deep-seeded woes to be addressed. Characters confront their inner demons, actors ooze unhappiness in overt performances, and directors wallow in the fallout.
Luna commences with the strains of Spanish guitars and the laments of a woman over what she remembers – or thinks she does – as overlaid upon a sketched representation of her ponderings. From there, it flits between art forms, animated imagery interspersed amongst the primarily live-action feature. On one hand, the style is more than just a gimmick, given that the film marks the third movie-making effort from graphic artist Dave McKean after MirrorMask and The Gospel of Us. On the other, where his chosen storytelling technique literally adds another layer to the melancholy musings, it also paints on the emotions much too thickly.
The drama begins when Grant (Ben Daniels, TV's House of Cards) and Christine (Dervla Kirwan, Blackout) finally accept the invitation of an art school friend, Dean (Michael Maloney, Utopia), to stay at his seaside house, motivated by a desire for a distraction from their despairing loss of their newborn son, as well as fonder hopes of reminiscence about times gone by. With the latter's younger girlfriend, Freya (Stephanie Leonidas, Defiance), also joining them, the foursome attempt to eat, drink and be merry; however sorrow proves insidious and unshakeable, as does the pain of older upsets still festering years later.
Though he writes and directs the film, based on a story he jointly conceived with Allen Spiegel, McKean is clearly an artist first and foremost. As his feature illustrates, he is also a creative mind with particular preferences for the dark and psychological. Luna smacks of striving for gloomy intimacy through visual intricacy, playing to his strengths in the murky flights of fancy. By mixing media, including different film stocks, he champions a collage-like approach designed to convey the characters' personal perspectives, morphing from the bleakness of everyday dramas to the expressive representation of inner fears and back again.
What such heavy-handed rendering of heightened malaise attempts to cement is the necessity of fantasy, escapism and diversity of thought as coping mechanisms. While the dialogue is equally obvious in making this plain, using a dinner-table argument over the vagaries of memory to spell it out, the film's themes speak louder than its construction should permit. The surreal interludes are effective, even if often overbearing; the performances are open, sometimes too much so; the eventual catharsis is tender, though it doesn't feel wholly earned. An intriguing, intermittently engaging package that emerges, made on small and individual rather than sweeping and shared victories, much like the reality of trying to tackle life's ills with long-lost acquaintances on a weekend sojourn.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
Director: Dave McKean
UK, 2014, 106 mins
Gold Coast Film Festival
9–19 April 2015