Director: D.B. Morgan
Writer: D.B. Morgan
Starring: Leona Clarke, Frank Jakeman
(Review by Christopher Bodan)
What can you get for eight-thousand pounds? What do you dream of – sort the car, redo the kitchen with an island and a fancy bespoke marble worktop, or possibly take an exotic holiday, retouch your tan, meet a dark stranger and commence a life of coconut water and sunsets on the water?
Maybe you could do any of that. Or, if you’re of the madder persuasion, it could get you a film, and in the case of writer-director D.B. Morgan, it can get you a substantial one at that – a heartfelt low-budget calling card entitled Faith.
Let’s be honest – I am the more unlikely candidate to review a film; critical analysis is not exactly in my nature. I take my stance not only from what I see on the screen, but also from the endeavour and determination to get it there in the first place. The gumption of plucky visionaries across the globe, across the years, from the early efforts of Sam Raimi and Steven Soderbergh, to the observances of Chloe Zhao and John Cassevettes, occupies a sizable piece of real estate in my emotional landscape, for simply not waiting for permission, for going out and getting their films made, films that wouldn’t exist other wise. Herzog’s wilful, single-minded obsession with dragging a boat up a mountain still echoes as madness, but what remains once the endeavour is done, are the films, committed to 16mm, 35mm, digital, whatever. They are there, alive and real, and thank the cinema gods for them.
D.B. Morgan, the writer, director and producer of Faith, has followed in this tradition, using a road trip device to tell a complex story of a father and daughter coming to terms with their wife and mother’s dementia, the fragilities that the awful condition draws from them both, and the failings each of them bear with combustible sensitivity. The use of a road trip to tell this type of story is a familiar trope; the road to somewhere or nowhere, allegorical and claustrophobic; the perfectly place to set up a story where people at odds attempt to come to terms with life. It is all about personal interpretation, how we see and are seen, good, bad, indifferent, loving, bitter, caring, pick an adjective for every white line in the road. The crux of Faith is a parent with many faults, nowhere more keenly displayed than in their own child.
Father and daughter, Martin and Jenny, brilliant played respectively by Frank Jakeman, in a wounded, volatile performances, and Leona Clarke, take to the road with clearly defined views of the past and their roles in its unfolding. The usual familiar quality of the selfish mirror. The opening thirty minutes of the film is given over to them as a two hander in the car, a brave move on Morgan’s part to allow such a significant part of his film to play out in this way, and there are technical aspects in the camerawork, blocking and editing that leave something to be desired (undoubtedly a consequence of the film’s insanely limited resources), but it ultimately pays off.
Such is the quality of the father/daughter chemistry that the verbal sparring is believable, bouyed by naturalistic improv, leaving the audience in a difficult predicament when it comes to choosing sides. The story is further complicated by the fact that Jenny is pregnant and her fiancé has gone AWOL. There’s a fuse of irony here, as she constantly uses her phone to track down the absent man in her life, with the battery ebbing away, whilst another absent man occupies the seat beside her. Much of the truth is stowed in the glovebox – the tell-tale bottle of whiskey, a suspicious white envelope, Martin’s attempt at redemption forcibly ejected by a daughter’s hurt.
The stakes are high in this tiny space, and a crash brings a new set of conversations to the fore. Their world shrinks even further in the crush of metal and plastic and shattered glass, narrowing like the dementia that brought them to this juncture in the first place. In this new upside-down world, Leona Clarke brings a real sense of desperation to her role as she fights to reach her phone and control the onset of her contractions. Frank Jakeman excels likewise as a father not wanting to be beaten, but feeling also that the fight is just too much. Even as he lies pinned, we get the sense that he seems satisfied with his end, asking for a drink to warm his bones – no point wasting a good malt and a chance to wallow.
History serves both characters with kindness and contempt, but it is their journey, real and metaphorical, that makes us root for them. As they wait for the baby to arrive, the chance of new life, they slow their breathing, recalling dark truths with a kindlier heart. Families need as many chances as they can get, where one fails, another takes the strain, and so on, and on.
There is a title in the opening credits of the film that say it perfectly: Created with Passion by The Underdog Crew.
Faith is what £8,000 gets you. I won’t give away the end. See the film. Long may the mavericks reign.