Film bits and bobs
First published by Sight & Sound, August 2015
Synopsis: Folkestone, England. German 29-year-old unemployed Melanie is instructed over the phone by her fiancé Richard, a successful artist, to look after his spoilt niece Grace for his sister Kate. After taking Grace to school, Melanie meets Ray in a dingy cafe – and runs into him again later. Melanie encourages Ray to pay respects to the Wiccan family (whom he has never met) of his estranged, recently deceased brother Steven, and accompanies him to their house. Later they take Ray’s newfound niece Laura to the beach. Melanie agrees to meet Ray later at the caff, but gets delayed looking after Grace after school. Ray surprises Kate when he comes looking for Melanie. Melanie argues with Richard over the phone. Melanie and Ray get to know one another’s life stories better, and end up in Ray’s hotel room – but they are interrupted by a call from Melanie’s friend Ali offering her a waitressing job right away. Demoralised after having to serve Richard’s good-looking work colleague Alex while dressed as a beaver, Melanie runs into Ray again at the harbour, who reveals that he is in town on shady business hunting a fugitive. Both plunge into the water. Melanie declares her intention to leave tomorrow for Europe. Ray lets the man whom he has been pursuing escape, and joins Melanie on the departing train.
Review: “I figured if you wait 29 years to leave somewhere, you have to get at least one large body of water away. Like a fugitive. You cross water and they lose your scent.”
The speaker is Melanie (Nora Tschirner), a German émigrée. When we first see her, in a scene that immediately follows the opening wideshot of Folkestone harbour at dawn, she is asleep and afloat on a lilo in a suburban swimming pool, literally cast adrift within her environment. Though grounded, stuck even, on the coastline of South-East England, she engages in “a lot of poignant looking out to sea,” as she dreams of life back on the continent. Chronically unemployed and betrothed, not altogether happily, to successful local artist Richard, Melanie is settling in every sense of the word, but her restless nature remains. The first words she is heard to utter are, significantly, “I’m lost.”
Over the course of this one long day and night, Melanie repeatedly crosses paths, at first by accident and eventually by design, with another lost soul, the older Ray (Rob Knighton). Taciturn where she is talkative, Ray is back in his hometown for the first time in decades, on an underworld assignment to pursue a real fugitive, while also hoping to pay last respects to his estranged (and recently deceased) brother Steven. With the rest of his clothes torn to shreds by his vindictive wife, Ray has only a black funeral suit to wear (which coincidentally makes him look like the ‘mafia’ he is gradually realising himself to be); and upon meeting Steven’s family for the first time, he gets cast as his late brother in a play (entitled, like the film, Everyone’s Going to Die) written by his young niece Laura (Madeline Duggan) for therapy. Meanwhile Melanie begins the film in Charlie Chaplin costume and moustache at a fancy dress party, and ends up in a beaver outfit for an undignified new waitressing job. Both are at crossroads in their lives and identities, forced into rôles that they would prefer to slough off – and in each other they perceive the potential for metamorphosis, if not quite the metempsychosis in which Steven’s Wiccan widow (Stirling Gallacher) believes.
The feature debut of writing/directing collective ‘Jones’, Everyone’s Going to Die keeps alluding to the kind of film that Ray might be expected to inhabit: he spends his downtime getting a tan like Ray Winstones’s Gal in Sexy Beast; he sits reading on his quarry’s toilet, like John Travolta’s doomed Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction; and he is even jokingly called ‘Don Corleone’ by Melanie. Yet this is a part that Ray is in fact learning to reject, even as Melanie comes to realise that she too wants out of her prescribed life path. Accordingly, this quirky and charming, if unlikely, romance is much more like one of Linklater’s Before… films than a gangster flick. For Melanie and Ray are on a transformative 24-hour walk and talk, buoying each other up as he faces the past and she flees into the future. Meanwhile, the liminal setting of Folkestone’s harbours, beaches and seasides proves the perfect frame for the duo’s sink-or-swim dilemma.