The spirit of Terrence Malick has suffused a lot of indie cinema of the past couple of decades, and you can see why that cinema of quasi-religious yearning, beautifully-composed landscapes and enigmatic voiceover might appeal to those with fewer means. But this feature debut from Esther May Campbell isn’t by any means a pastiche, it just seems to share a certain genetic material, perhaps also with the earlier films of Kelly Reichardt. The setting of Light Years feels somewhere between the countryside and city, in that no-man’s-land of faceless industrial estates and chain fences around vacant lots of something or other, the kind of place that seems familiar even as you can’t quite place it. Amongst this is a family of three kids (Ramona, Ewan and the youngest Rose, played by Sophie Burton, James Stuckey and Zamira Fuller respectively) whose mother is not around for reasons that are kept largely mysterious for the much of the film, but the key is how they relate to this. There’s an earnest sense of loss that pervades all three of them, something that is in a sense part of the very landscape where the film is shot, a liminal empty space. For all that I like about the film — and aside from what I’ve spoken of above, there’s also the fascinating, empty faces of the non-actors who seem far more ‘real’ in their way than any number of movie families — their way of expressing themselves pulls me out of the film a little, in the sense that it doesn’t quite ring true: they have a lot more words than you’d imagine kids of this age might have, and while that’s clearly a conscious choice, it seems to work against the images (for me). The director spoke at the Q&A after the film of how the early parts of the film are particularly challenging because the characters isolate themselves (physically yes, but also emotionally), and in truth it’s a film where the emotions are somewhat hidden and it does require work as a viewer, so it may not work for everyone. And yet it’s a fascinating first film, and I’ll be interested to see where the director goes from here.
Director/Writer Esther May Campbell; Cinematographers Zac Nicholson and Will Pugh; Starring Zamira Fuller, Sophie Burton, James Stuckey; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Wednesday 14 October 2015.