The only possible advantage of having a film industry that has become so set in its ways is that, every once in a blue moon, some bright spark will refute the usual funding channels, strike out into those territories nobody else has been mapping, and come back with an example of something nobody else has been making. Oliver Krimpas's Around the Sun landed earlier this week care of an unknown distributor, off the back of zero press previews and with no advance marketing, the handiwork of a multinational cast and crew we will likely struggle to reassemble after December 31st of this year. That will be our loss. It has an immediately unusual, distinctive starting point: a location scout (Gethin Anthony) meets kind-of cute with a realtor (Cara Theobold) at the gates of a chateau on the outskirts of Normandy. (Already, a deviation from the norm: an attempt to do something contemporary in and around a country house. In the era of Downton, that may be tantamount to treason.) After some awkward small talk, the pair's chat gravitates towards Conversations on the Pluralities of Worlds, the astrological-philosophical tome Bernard le Bovier de Fontanelle wrote in these parts; the mere mention occasions some kind of rupture in the film's fabric, setting us to watch the same actors playing a variation of the same characters in a different timeline, getting an inkling they may have passed this way in a previous life. At once, the film begins circling before our eyes, with lines that have the ring of déjà entendu or that refer back to the type of story Krimpas and his American screenwriter Jonathan Kiefer are telling. Cinephiles will be reminded of Rohmer, Resnais, Rivette; normal folk will find themselves nodding when one of Theobold's heroines observes "It's like one of those super-nerdy late-night student chats." As with those, this exploratory mission will skirt the outer reaches of pretension - but the possibilities it considers really do seem limitless. A lot of time and resources get channelled into big movies that feel intrinsically empty; here's a small film - 79 minutes, two actors, one location - which contains multitudes.
If one had to fathom a guess as to its maker's personality - and Around the Sun shapes up as a rare British film that hasn't had its personality planed off by committee - you'd say Krimpas was of that nostalgic-romantic persuasion that has typically taken refuge in darkened rooms where shadows still flicker on the walls. His main focus here is on what's been left behind, be that a French chateau, philosophical tracts, the art of conversation ("everything good starts with a conversation") or an upper-case notion of Art Cinema. Inevitably, one reality sticks the leads in period costume - as if Krimpas wanted to say, yes, I can do that, too - but it's not the whole show. Instead, across his plurality of realities, Kiefer's talk gets increasingly wide-ranging, taking in the etymology of the name Diana, the symbolism of the planets, and a final reach for some grand unifying theory, how what we are connects to everything that came before us, and also everything that didn't come to pass. It's a more than useful showcase for these actors, TV graduates invited to operate in different delivery modes: meek and stumbling in some realities yet forceful in others, Theobold and Anthony switch nimbly between light romantic comedy and something more questing yet. Krimpas also elicits fine contributions from cinematographer Michael Edo Keane, making the most of the handsome elements set before him by the film's own location scout, and composer Steven Gutheinz, whose piano cues recall Michael Nyman at his most relaxed and playful. (What goes around comes around.) As Fontanelle might himself point out, it's not that these are radically new ideas for anyone to investigate: you could argue Around the Sun is really just Sliding Doors with a postgraduate degree. It's just encouraging to see a homespun feature mulling those ideas with such assurance, intelligence and elegance. Not to mention a streak of cosmic poetry of which Fontanelle would surely have approved: note how the heroine's russet hair rhymes with the autumnal shades of the trees in the chateau's grounds. As there is occasionally beauty in the universe, so too, we must concede, it slips into our cinema.
Around the Sun is now streaming via Apple TV, iTunes and Amazon Prime.