Dirs: Rankin/Chris Cottam.100mins. UK. 2006.
The Lives Of TheSaints is a bold but determinedly awkward affair in whichdebut directors Rankin and Chris Cottam ultimatelyrisk overstretching themselves. Individual sequences are strikingly shot andperformed and there is no faulting the film-makers' ambition or imagination - butthere is no disguising either the gauche moments or tendency towardself-indulgence.
There will be considerablecuriosity about the film in the UK and internationally: this is, after all, thefirst feature from noted cultural polymath Rankin, co-founder of Dazed & Confused magazine and acelebrated photographer. The financing is also highly unusual: around 70% ofthe budget, reported to be around $2m, came from jeans company, Meltin' Pot. The challenge for UK distributors Tartan willbe to overcome what are likely to be mixed and backbiting reviews and to reachthe younger audiences who will warm to the film's energy and innovative storytellingstyle. Outside the UK it may get a gentler ride from international critics, butwhile some more festival play is likely, it will be nothing more than a nicheitem.
The Lives Of The Saints screens this week in Locarno,followed by Edinburgh later in the month. A UK release date is yet to be set.
More and more figures fromthe worlds of photography and advertising are making the transition to featurefilms, including Anton Corbijn (currently filming JoyDivision saga Control) and Ringan Ledwidge (who madelow-budget Australian horror film Gonefor Working Title). All have an obvious knack for striking imagery, but what someare yet to prove is that they have the same flair for long-form storytellingand depth of characterisation.
Rankin and Cottam shot The LivesOf The Saints from an original screenplay by Tony Grisoni (Fear AndLoathing In Las Vegas). It is a story about North London chancers and petty criminals but is written in stylised andpoetic fashion.
The opening voice-over setsthe tone. "It all starts with Roadrunner, speedingfrom birth, shot out of the womb like a rocket'he was the clockwork spring thatkept our world turning." The plotting verges on the haphazard. Roadrunner (Broni), who jogs round delivering messages for brutalpatriarch and smalltime crime boss Kava (Cosmo),stumbles on a kid (Sam MacLintock) in the park. The kid in question is a sickly looking 10-year-oldwith huge eyes and strange, extra-sensory powers. For reasons never madeentirely clear, Roadrunner deposits this waif in the flat belonging to Kava'swastrel stepson, Othello (Leon). Somehow, just by looking in the eyes of thekid, Othello is granted everything he wants. "He's probably that Chucky, orDamien or something," someone quips of the strange visitor when he firstarrives but they all soon acknowledge that "he's Nostradamus'afucking oracle."
Kava (a barnstormingperformance from James Cosmo) dominates the film. When we first see him, he istrying to jerk off with the assistance of Othello's girlfriend, Tina. "Here itis, Tina - Aaron's rod, the manhood, the meat and two veg,"he tells her as she rummages forlornly around somewhere near his midriff. He isa larger-than-life figure, exuding menace and false bonhomie as he bullies hisfamily and associates.
Baz Irvine's atmospheric location cinematography managesto make Tottenham and the nearby Green Lanes area - where much of the film isset - look oppressive and other-worldly. What may prove disconcerting to someaudiences is the way the movie oscillates between social realism and thefantastical. We're never quite sure what is beingplayed for laughs. The sub-plots about the transvestite priest (a strikingcameo from Marc Warren) and the woebegone Christella(Gillian Kearney), who convinces herself that a vagrant is the son she lost,are more grotesque than comic.
It takes a while to realisethat the film-makers aren't trying to make points about social injustice ordisaffected youth. If anything, as they show Kava's family imploding in bloodyand violent fashion, they are striving for something closer to classicaltragedy.
The young, unknown leadshave their moments, but occasionally struggle with Grisoni'srich, metaphor-laden dialogue. There are clumsy, sub-Reservoir Dogs-styleaction scenes, as when the cowardly Emilio (Bronson Webb) threatens Othellowith a gun. The abrupt, Grand Guignol-style endingleaves several unanswered questions, and the voice-over ("no-one saidnothing'it's like it never happened, like it was a dream") doesn't clarify mattersmuch either.
If The Lives Of The Saints doesn't hang together, at least there isambition to it. Rankin and Cottam are attemptingsomething beyond just another by-the-numbers low-budget British horror organgster film. As first-time feature directors, they have admitted that "thelearning curve is indescribable." It is hardly surprising that their debutfeature has so many rough edges but there is also enough verve and originalityhere to suggest that the duo's future film work will be worth checking out.
Dazed Film & TV