Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 26, 2024 8:35 pm 
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Real trauma feeds into poetic film of a romance between young women

Vicky Knight plays Franky, a young nurse from a rough working-class family; her mum’s an alcoholic and her sister Leah (played by Knight’s real-life sister Charlotte) is in a relationship with an abusive partner. Franky is consumed by her own demons. As a child she was badly burned in a fire in her father’s East London pub in which her older brother was killed. She’s convinced the fire was caused by the woman her dad has since walked out and started a new family with, but there’s no evidence to prove it.

It’s a trauma Franky handles by smoking weed and nurturing thoughts of revenge – that is, until Florence (Esmé Creed-Miles), a pretty young woman who has just attempted suicide, turns up in the hospital ward where Franky works, and the two find themselves drawn to each other and to romance and a sexual affair. Franky also finds comfort and acceptance with Florence's more open-minded family, led by her foster mother Alice (Angela Bruce), a strong and lovely woman who has cancer, and her foster brother Jack (Archie Brigden).

Franky's early trauma is based on Knight's own experiences, but Sacha Polak, whose fourth film this is and who in 2019 made another with Knight called Dirty God, weaves that into a tough-talking working-class British lesbian love poem and tale of improvised family connections with delicate natural lighting and nicely blended voice-over songs and sound design. Polak's dreamy, meandering film finds beauty in trauma and trouble with a final wave of hope.

On the fringes, then central to the tale are the mother with cancer, an autistic brother, the menial hospital job, and a part of South London that's like Coney Island. Visiting there, Franky and Florence find an appropriate background for their romance, a world of pastel and tinsel. Florence teaches Franky to swim again; she says she has forgotten since the fire.

The description of the fire by Franky for Florence is a disturbing and powerful moment, because it's so convincing, due to being real; and Vicky Knight's upper body scars too are real. A little too much reality, perhaps. Probably what's more invented is Franky's desire to find who's guilty of starting the fire and exact revenge for this trauma that marred all her years from age eight till now age twenty-three. This provides suspense and an objective correlative that is external to the more delicate emotions of the healing bond of the two young woman and the second mother.

More importantly as John Bleasdale says in his Sight and Sound review, with this film Polak captures the "humour, tone and rhythms of working-class life" without "Dardenesque dourness." Indeed what's special is this: the smooth cohabitation of F-word, glottal-stop dialogue with poetry and wistful romance and sweetness. This film is a delight to the eye - props to the cinematography of Tibor Dingelstad for that. Harsh facts and blunt words always blend with the poetry, though, and there are moments when you may want to cover your ears.

Thangs get more complicated and layered after Franky's and Florence's relationship cools, while Franky remains with Florence's foster family and her connection with Alice begins to dominate. Florence was too unstable to be the restorative one Franky wanted, but Franky isn't gone, either.

Somehow it works. Dustin Chang of Screen Anarchy calls Silver Haze "a little gem" and it is that, if a rough one. Some, especially of an LGBTQ persuasion, are sure to find this film beautiful and memorable even if the gay love storyline is not the only thing at the center of it. An enthusiastic French spectator's review on AlloCiné calls this "a film that will resonate long after the credits roll." It may have that magical starting-to-cry when-you're-blocks-from-the-cinema effect. In his Berlinale review Nicholas Bell suggests the positive influences of the two major British women neorealist filmmakers, Andrea Arnold and Clio Bernard. Sacha is batting on the same team.

Silver Haze, 102 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 19, 2023, showing also at BFI, showing also at Tribeca, Taipei, Outfest, and Göteborg. US release in theaters Mar. 1, 2024.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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