Movie Review by Stephen Doyle
Starring: Peter Mullan, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Millie Findlay, James E Martin, David Warner
Director: Emily Young
KISS OF LIFE, writer/director Emily Young’s debut feature, is a minimalist piece about a family under crisis. It consists of two plot strands which are developed intermittently. By far the more interesting plot involves John (Peter Mulan) who is working as an aid worker in dangerous Eastern European territory. He is desperate to get home in time for his wife’s birthday. When he is told by his superiors that this is impossible he tries to make his own way home. This dangerous journey through a strange land is shot with vivid realism and is electric to watch.
Sadly, watching the plight of John’s Lithuanian wife Helen (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) in the other plot strand is not such a thrill. Helen lives with her two children and her father in London, and she is becoming increasingly annoyed at her husband’s long absences to other countries as an aid worker. This storyline was actually developing quite nicely, but then it all turns horribly pretentious when Helen gets killed in a car crash, only to return as a ghost in limbo. I found this a dubious direction for the film to go in.
The performances are good. Mullan is as reliable as ever, delivering an honest and committed performance straight from the gut. Dapkunaite also does well with a less rewarding role. Given even more thankless parts, the two child actors fail to shine.
One of the most singular features of the film is Emily Young’s experimental use of narrative devices – the story is told through flashbacks, dream sequences, fantasy sequences, home video footage of the family and scenes featuring Helen as a ghost. This way of telling the story is impressive at times and can have a hypnotic over-worldly effect. But sometimes Young lays it on a bit thick – as when Helen’s son has a dream about meeting his dead mother. He supposedly wakes up, only to meet his dead mother once more. But this turns out to be another dream, and the boy wakes up again. And guess who is in the corner of the room? His dead mother, except this time he cannot see her because she is a ghost. And so on. David Warner, of all people, turns up playing Helen’s loopy father Pap, and he spends the whole film looking utterly mystified. It’s hard to blame him.
The film, perhaps, would have benefited from less heavy-handed pretentious posturing and more in the way of story. Indeed story is so lacking that although the film is only 86 minutes long it seems a lot longer.