Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten or unknown film and TV credits, continues this week with works featuring Aidan Gillen.
Photo Finish (2003)
Directed and Written by Douglas McFerran
With no plot description, and a half finished cast listing on IMDB, Photo Finish had all the warning signs of a lost film. Yet, thanks to who I’m hoping is the real director, and not someone posing as Douglas McFerran on Vimeo, the full feature can be found here.
Photo Finish is a lot of things: well-cast, playful in its imagery, infuriating—but infuriating in that way that you can’t tell if it’s effective or overdone. Two home videos intercut with each other to open the film. One, black and white, shows a smiling woman performing a private strip tease. The other is our main characters, Joe (Gillen) and Elen (Alexandra Staden), looking extremely happy together. She’s playing the piano, he’s teasing her, and they mug for the camera, showing no signs of strain or impending doom. Paired with the sound of a projector running and grainy lines on the film, both of these videos are on the old side. Still, to solidify the point farther, cut to the present and a drunk Joe is smashing a picture frame from the sequence. Their happy coupling is no more yet Joe and the film continually return to these reels, seeking answers from the captured memories as to what went wrong. How did things take such a turn for the worst?
This is where the potentially infuriating/genius part comes in—the gap, however long it is between when the home movie was shot and where the couple are now, with Elen on the cusp of ending their six year relationship, is never filled. Nary a hint is provided of what happened between them. Instead, we are put in the same boat as Joe who, although he lived through the period, acts equally blindsided as to how things got from Point A to Point B. Pushed into the lives of these characters without context, we’re hindered from making heads or tails of their behavior. Do we sympathize with Joe, a photographer stuck in the past, or feel confused by his persistence to get back together? Is their break-up the source of his current obsessiveness, or is his obsessiveness behind Elen wanting to end things?
More confusing is Elen’s motivation for the relationship she starts next. Smarmy, rich, and married, James (James Purefoy) is that special breed of confident whose response to rejection is to act like it’s only a matter of time. This alone should get him flipped off, but instead Elen proves him right. She agrees to have an affair. Again and again half-hearted refusals end with Elen agreeing to his proposals. It gets to the point that Joe seems surprised by her willingness and a photographer for a piano CD cover shoot has to deliver the on the nose line, “How deliciously corruptible you are.”
So we have two, otherwise intelligent women (adding to the rampant number of photographers in this picture is James’ wife, Martha (Colette Brown)) continuously fawning over a monster, Joe succumbing to a stalker role moments of clarity prove he’s better than, an annoying appearance by Chekov’s gun, and indulgent dialogue that occasionally underestimates what viewers need to have vocalized (we get it—James is Freudian). Why isn’t this film “better left buried?”
No, it’s not just because I love a film that rewards attention to visuals (see the hilarious juxtaposition above). It’s because, rather than roll my eyes at these characters, I cared about them. I wanted to understand them. Which is where the time jump earlier, between happy Joe and Elen, and self-destructive Joe and Elen, is so important. The film is specifically designed so you can’t understand.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
If Joe ever became a completely lost cause (and changing feelings about a weighty subplot with Joe’s next door neighbor, Mrs. Balbinski (Ann Firback), go back and forth over whether this happens), the film would’ve fallen apart, by nature of its characters being stuck in an untenable stalemate. If Joe wasn’t played by Aidan Gillen, and the acting is strong by everyone, the movie would’ve become too much of an unlikable drag. Courtesy of its combination of parts, Photo Finish is a think piece, and (outside of the last few minutes, which are inexcusably excessive) a rather hard-hitting one.
Check back tomorrow as we close off the week with a William Blake poem.