Dir: Thomas Clay. UK.2005. 96mins
Thomas Clay announceshimself as a provocative new British talent with the disturbing state of thenation wake up call The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael. The 24year-old's ambitious debut feature carries echoes of such uncompromisingEuropean auteurs as Michael Haneke and Gaspar Noe before taking a turn intovideo nasty territory with brutal scenes of rape and torture that had someaudiences rushing for the nearest exit.
Most UK distributors have amountain to climb in trying to persuade British audiences to see indigenousproductions and may just consider this too unpalatable and controversial tofigure on their radar. Those very qualities could be a red rag to otherdistributors noted for their swashbuckling approach to such a challenge. Thedebate it generates should at least ensure further festival screenings andincreased attention on Clay but a question mark must linger over its commercialpotential and artistic value.
Set in a small Englishcoastal town, the film initially suggests another addition to the new wave ofBritish social-realist directors like Amma Asante and Saul Dibb. We are given asense of a community on hard times, a land of haves and have nots in which thecomplacent middle-classes cling to their privileges and everyone else is anenemy at the gates.
It eventually seems thatClay's interest lies in much bigger issues of a Godless age in which a younggeneration no longer recognise any moral boundaries and a government commandsneither the respect nor the trust of its people.
The recent Iraq war is aconstant presence in the film with television news reports frequently heard inthe background or pushed to the foreground in one scene where the noise drownsout an assumed gang rape in another room Robert Carmichael (Spencer) is thesymbol of this world cut adrift from its moral bearings. Academically gifted,he plays the cello and has a reputation as a quiet, introverted teenager. Inreality, he can perform at a school concert one part of an evening and bewasted on drugs later the same night.
Joe (Winsley) and Ben(Winsley) are the friends who tempt him into an assault on the home of smugtelevision chef Jonathan (Michael Howe) that leads to a bloodbath.
Strikingly shot in widescreen by Yorgos Arvanitis, The Great Ecstasy has a meditative,cinematic look that is unusual in current British cinema. The whole town has amenacing, powderkeg air and everyone keeps to their own safe world-Robert'smother Sarah (Manville) devotes her time to a choir, Jonathan's heartfeltconnection with the local people lasts all of five minutes when he attendstheir concert. This is a community with no heart, no values and no soul.
The point is already wellmade before the final 20 minutes of the film in which Jonathan's American wifeis tortured and repeatedly raped. It is a sensationalistic crescendo to whatuntil then had been a more subtle and thought-provoking piece.
Pull Back Camera Ltd