Sunday 8 July 2012

Continental drift: "The Soul of Flies"

The attentively shot, quietly diverting indie The Soul of Flies feels rather like Hal Hartley's finest hour Simple Men transposed to a sunbaked location, with the subtitles on and the deadpan key disengaged in favour of something warmer. Two brothers - Miguel (Javier Sáez) and Nero (Andrea Calabrese), sons of separate mothers who've never previously crossed paths - are shambling through the Spanish countryside in an attempt to make their father's funeral. Nothing is ever as simple in these films as getting on a train and going there: the station at which the pair first meet is boarded up and abandoned, and when they accept a lift from a passing motorist that will get them partway there, the car breaks down, leaving them to conduct the rest of their journey on foot, with only each other for company.

A further tension is that these pilgrims come from different places in the world: the younger of the two married, and prone to rather conservative beliefs, the elder a free spirit and fount of poetic disquisitions that are apt to be dismissed as so much flowery bollocks, especially when he starts telling us about a man who sweated daisies. Together, the pair drift onwards, and that drifting is liable to divide audiences, much as it did in that first wave of indie slacker comedies The Soul of Flies keeps reminding you of. Despite that, it has a tendency to creep up on the viewer, in moments where the smart-casual performances, the wonderfully plangent score (by Calabrese and Tim Walters) and writer-director Jonathan Cenzual Burley's evident gifts for widescreen image-making all come together.

In a film of contrasts, a typical Cenzual Burley conceit is to shoot an awesomely big sky, a roseate sunset or sunrise, and then stick something small, incongruous and - more often than not - funny in front of it: a bright red sofa sitting in the middle of nowhere, a woman dancing in a hail of Post-It notes, a suicidal narcoleptic who falls asleep with his neck in the noose, a literal band of outlaws emerging from a field to dance across the horizon like the damned in The Seventh Seal. We're not too far away from the border of whimsy, but the whole is at least as promising as it is trying, and - in the current changeable weather - it may just serve as one of those holiday-substitute experiences, inviting us as it does to bathe in the warmth coming off the screen, and mind not that neither it nor its characters appear in any real hurry to get anywhere.

The Soul of Flies opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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