Sunday, 9 July 2017

Passing clouds: "A Change in the Weather"

While other British filmmakers have had to scrimp, save and generally make do with whatever the funding bodies have left after the latest round of cuts, the industrious writer-director Jon Sanders has quietly gone about extending his CV with a run of privately financed, largely improvised late-life dramas - 2008's Low Tide, 2012's Late September and the following year's Back to the Garden - shot close to home, with his nearest and dearest in front of the camera. Some blurring of life and art can be witnessed in these films: the characters are, in the main, as comfortably appointed as Sanders and his actress-wife-muse Anna Mottram presumably are, heading onwards into their twilight years yet still eminently capable of holding lively, refined, provocative conversations and to sojourn in attractive country outposts lined with books and other bohemians. A Change in the Weather lands as the most self-reflexive (and trickiest) entry in this filmography, perhaps channelling everything Sanders has learnt and experienced over these past few projects through the plight - if that's the right word - of a theatre director (Bob Goody), holed up with his wife (Mottram) and regular players in a workshop somewhere in the French countryside.

Placed centre stage, right from the opening bout of "hot seating" (an exercise in which performers take questions from their fellow thesps in the guise of their character), is the actor's process; in essence, Sanders has elected to film that which usually gets internalised the minute a director calls action. Alarm bells may be ringing, and - in truth - A Change in the Weather generates at least a couple of sequences that, if approached with anything less than a completely open mind, may strike viewers as falling somewhere between precious and indulgent: certainly, I felt the extended dance routine with a life-size puppet was being approached with possibly a shade too much reverence, while the attempt to make kitchen utensils enter into conversation with one another was only partly redeemed upon the revelation this show was being put on for the entertainment of a small child. Something in the film's combination of thespy introspection and wide-open hillsides, however, kept reminding me of Olivier Assayas's Clouds of Sils Maria: Sanders is clearly picking up that rarefied strain of art cinema that strikes the onlooker as all the more curious for being pursued in the English language, and therefore without recourse to the expected subtitles.

You wonder whether, after last year's EU referendum result, the director felt he had to travel abroad to nurture this fragile material, to seek safe space of some kind; that, certainly, would tie in with a poignant key theme here - that these eternally circumlocuting Brits are using their art to float those hopes and fears they feel they cannot express in life. It remains a touch arcane, very much a film (and production) inhabiting its own small world, which may explain why the final confrontation between husband and wife never quite generates the same impact as that of, say, 45 Years. Yet the whole is very sharply and atmospherically shot by David Scott, more ghost story than bacchanalia in its look, forever turning the camera on interesting, underfilmed, melancholy personalities: you can see why Sanders keeps returning to Goody as an onscreen surrogate, suggesting as the actor does some singular hybrid of scarecrow, Paul McCartney and Old English sheepdog. In the interests of full disclosure, I should declare this is one of those films whose near-critical mass of Subjects I Don't Give Two Figs About (actors being actors! The sale of a family property!) would generally send me running screaming from the room. That A Change in the Weather never did - that I was always at the very least intrigued by its cosy Cassavetisms - might be taken as its own mild form of commendation.

A Change in the Weather is now playing in selected cinemas.   

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