Lost and Found Shopping

Film Over the years I seem to have lost a lot of writing. There are certain pieces which I've been quite proud of, which have disappeared, either through hard disk failures, clearouts or disks left in computers in libraries. The following review is one of those pieces. I found it under a completely odd unrelated file name as I was going an old folder on this cavernous hard drive of mine. In fact I thought I'd lost this review of Late Night Shopping so much I wrote a different review, which is posted here.

==> I’ve always had an embryonic idea for a festival of films set during twilight in that almost negative zone between dusk and dawn, where town and cities somehow become unreal places. Anyone whose walked through their city centre at four in the morning will know what I mean. In that street light, buildings and structures, closed shops and offices, feel like you would assume a film set must be like at the end of the day, skeletal and ghostly waiting for those precious few hours until they can fulfill their presence once again. Invading these once natural places feels wrong, as though you’re intruding on the city’s own slumber. There have been few films which capture this feeling.

Blade Runner, of course, with its perpetual night. And Strange Days. Dark City. Equinox. Go. Some sections of Heat. But these are all very arch films. There have been very few funny and sweet films so frankly the festival would have been a long dark teatime of the soul. I suppose Before Sunrise and Linklater’s lesser known Suburbia could be in there, but they don’t quite live up to the brief of engendering the feeling. And now, finally, without much fanfare we have Late Night Shopping finally a British film which isn’t Human Traffic set at that time of night. And for once it's actually quite good. Spectacularly good.

I should let you know the circumstances I saw this film under. I’ve just started new full time job which requires me to take a two hour round trip each day to work. Currently that means up at six in the morning home by half six, somewhat limiting film watching flexibility. Saw Shrek under these conditions and I’ve a feeling that’s why I’m not sure whether that’s a great film. So having eaten one of the worst burger meals I’d ever visited upon for tea, and walked around the city for an hour waiting for the film to start, you’d think that I was in the worst state I could be to sit down for a film, despite the plushness of the cinema. On reflection I was probably in the best condition, as tired as the characters on the screen with that same slightly jaded view of the world.

The first fictional work of Saul Metzstein (the documentary filmmaker behind the seminal This is Dogma 95) should not work. Four very different people meet every night in a cafĂ©, their commonality being the a break in the tedium of the night shift. We have some fairly standard characters: Vinnie (James Lance) the wide boy seemingly taking a sabbatical from a Guy Richie movie to stack shelves; Lenny (Enzo Cilenti), the slightly timid nervous one who works for directory enquiries; Sean (Luke De Woolfson) the everyman presumed observer of the action (hospital porter) and Jody (Kate Ashfield), the opinionated tom-boy (As If’s Sooz, all grown up). The makings of a Big Brother spin-off certainly, but not necessarily a film you’d pay to see. So why does it work so well?

Even though, initially the characters do grate, and there is a feeling that you might as well be at home watching Friends for all the freshness on offer. But as the dialogue unfolds, there is something new here. These characters should not be talking to one another. They don’t fit. Other than their situations they have nothing in common. But it becomes clear that this is exactly why they are together. Their interactions are the brightest part of the night, the time the spend together their chance to experience world outside their own personal sphere of existence. When Vinnie and Sean talk about his compunction for checking the soap in his bathroom to see if his girlfriend has used it and so she must still be living with him, its because he’s never had a steady relationship. He doesn’t know what its like.

The look of the film is also extraordinary. The empty twilight is sharply focused, the camera moving into every nook and cranny of the city. Whilst ‘interesting’ camera angles always suggest a lower budget, here they serve to accentuate this place’s otherness. Equally strong is the soundtrack, its eclecticism a mine of your past. You know you’re a child of the eighties you if you find yourself singing along. Which is not to say this isn’t a very contemporary film.

So what of the players? Enzo Cilenti’s Lenny is very much a variation of his persona in Virtual Sexuality and jars somewhat at first because they are so similar, which isn’t to say he doesn’t do nervy well, but perhaps his is the least believable character. Lance has an obvious versatility, and its difficult to think of another actor being able to full of his epiphany. De Woolfson (more usually seen in the adverts before the picture (wasn’t he the monk in the Virgin commercials?)) carries his roles well, a study of the nadir which all of us eventually reach at some point in our lives. That moment when the shitty status quo becomes a comfortable norm.

The revelation is Kate Ashfield. A few words here about plotting. In terms of the main plot she is very much a hanger on, her own story feeling like an afterthought, a punch line to end the film on. Realising this the scriptwriter has given her some of the best lines and she has the role of moving the main plot to its conclusion. So even though we have less glimpses into her personal life, she has the greatest impact and is perhaps in some of the more memorable scene (and there are some doozy’s towards the end). Give this girl more work immediately. Also watch out for an extended cameo by the luminous star of a Sunday night BBC period drama. I’ll say no more.

As with all these things there is something indefinably great about this film. Its difficult to describe exactly why it work. But I’m currently thinking about going again, despite the late night that will entail, which must be some kind of praise. <==

Regular readers can see when that review was written. I really didn't stay in Manchester that often to see films, but this seemed worth it. I was right.

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