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A stubborn dream

Maria Mercedes, Dreams for Life Maria Mercedes, Dreams for Life
The striking thing about Dreams for Life the first feature film from Melbourne short filmmaker Anna Kannava is the sensual sunniness on the one hand of Firouz Malekzadeh’s cinematography, Jayne Russell’s production design and Zed Dragojlovich’s costuming of the film’s central figure, and, on the other, the monochromatic psychological intensity of this spare 75 minute narrative. The contrast makes for a curious, sometimes compelling dialectic between a closed life and the potential for something more. Like an Eric Rohmer heroine, Ellen (Maria Mercedes) can be at times profoundly irritating, her passion for a lover she has lost, or rejected ("he was a truck driver"), reads like a stubborn commitment to the impossible. She is pursued by and is attracted to his younger brother but resists what looks like a great opportunity, persisting with her waiting to be duly if somewhat strangely rewarded in what might be a happy ending, depending on how you read it. However, unlike a Rohmer ending it’s neither revelatory nor redemptive Ellen remains opaque; interpret her as you will.

Kannava gives her film a leisurely pace, allowing time for highly textured attention to detail–faces, changing patterns of light, Ellen’s collections of shells and art objects. The mood is contemplative, of a state of being quietly played out to its full extent. But there are ample unexplained references to secrets, a death and illicit behaviour hinting at a barely submerged melodrama which sometimes surfaces: having spurned the younger brother, Ellen calls after him "I love you." But does she? It’s news to us.

I liked the ending for what I took to be sustained pathos; perhaps the filmmaker sees it as happiness. The older brother turns up out of the blue, post-marital breakup, just out of treatment for depression, and falls fully dressed into Ellen’s bed, wordless and exhausted. With a self-satisfied half-smile, Ellen slips slowly into bed after him, doubtless ecstatic that she’s waited for and got the right man. The concentrated duration of the scene places a question mark over that thought. Or does it?

Dreams for Life has enjoyed considerable critical praise and is steadily finding its way into festivals. I found its dialogue awkward, the plotting loaded and Ellen’s opacity too limiting. Gillian Leahy’s My Life Without Steve (1987), a reverie on loss in which no one appears and the objects of a life are surveyed, is for me a more potent meditation on loss. But Dreams for Life certainly has its moments and a visual language to relish. KG

Dreams for Life, writer-director Anna Kannava, MusicArtsDance Films Pty Ltd

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 26

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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