Film Review: 'Luna'

★★★☆☆
Familial waters run especially deep in Dave McKean's haunting new drama Luna (2014), which featured in the experimental Vanguard strand of this year's Toronto International Film Festival. In the director's striking but uneven 2005 debut feature, Mirrormask, it was style that particularly caught the eye as he crafted an utterly unique blend of reality and fantasy, a trick he emulates with his latest effort. A meditation on grief and parenthood, it has some shaky moments, but their memory is largely erased by beautiful, spectral flights of fancy and a thoughtful and inventive treatment of fairly brooding subject matter. It's a bold, intimate vision from a very interesting emerging British filmmaker.

Spanning a single weekend in the coastal home of artist Dean (Michael Maloney) and his partner Freya (Stephanie Leonidas), the narrative commences with the arrival of two old friends. Grant (Ben Daniels) and Christine (Dervla Kirwan) were at art school with Dean, but they've fallen out of touch since tragically losing their baby a year ago. Over the course of the next two days, awkward reminiscences give way to long-buried grievances and revelations abound. All the while, Dean's sketches seem to creep from his pads and the walls, blurring the boundaries between the physical world and the artistic one of memory and emotion. The scratched line drawings are shown both as refuge from the ills of the real world and an unblinking mirror raised up to them as Dean struggles to empathise with his grieving college friends.

Grant doesn't paint any more, it seems, but when he and Dean do take up their pens, the results are despairing and nightmarish. The artwork for the film is produced by McKean himself and it all - from animated outlines, to stop-motion origami, to an inky world of imagination - perfectly complements the tone of the piece; dark and ghostly. Through the door to this other world, regardless of whether it is real, would seem to lie some sense of catharsis. An abundance of symbolism is present throughout - not least in the name of Freya, the Norse goddess who was aptly associated with both fertility and the afterlife - and she forms an interesting fulcrum around which the other characters pivot. Stephanie Leonidas more than holds her own in experienced company that together provides a quartet of delicate and poignant performances, despite the odd duff line. It's this naturalistic drama at the heart of Luna that lends it emotional substance, even if it's personal rather than profound. This is a real step forward in every sense for McKean.

This review was originally published on 13 September 2014 as part of our Toronto International Film Festival coverage.

Ben Nicholson

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