Light Years, 2015.
Directed by Esther May Campbell.
Starring Beth Orton, Muhammet Uzuner, Sophie Burton, James Stuckey, Zamira Fuller, Mike Wright, Mickey Morris, Ewan Cooke, Graeme Hogg and Fouad Cilmi.
Rose longs to see mum, but nobody will take her. Ever. Dad disappears to work. Sister waits for a boy on a damp golf course while their brother communes with spirits online. But Rose reckons a familys like a constellation – connected up there in the infinite. Stars feel each other, even if they’ve died millions of years ago, even if theyre light years apart. Taking destiny into her hands, Rose slips out at dawn into Englands forgotten edge lands. Her departure provokes a family to change, to search for Rose and each other, until discovering the truth of their own awesome inheritance.
Writer-director Esther May Campbell’s feature debut Light Years has a particular familiarity in both plot and presentation that troubles many other wistful, countryside-adjacent independent films. The story sees the three disaffected children of absent/distant parents set out on a journey to reunite their fractured family after the youngest, Rose, runs away from home to track down their medicalised mother (Beth Orton). Despite her tender age, this isn’t a thrilling tale of child endangerment or parental responsibility, but rather a somber, floaty series of meditations on isolation and desire that intersect in an underwhelming conclusion.
The film’s visuals are its biggest strength, Campbell and her cinematographers finding striking, ethereal images in the English countryside and giving Bristol industrial estates an abandoned, sometimes alien quality that aids empathising with the cast’s detachment from their surroundings and one another. A scene featuring the father (Muhammet Uzuner) working in a large greenhouse is calming, the lush vegetation offering a tranquil refuge from the grim outside world until he can’t avoid his familial duties any longer. These wordless moments create a world of sound and colour intoxicatingly separate from the social realism on either side; sadly, these are often spoiled by characters opening their mouths and delivering preposterous sub-poetic dialogue (occasionally to themselves).
There’s something to be admired in the more restrained performances by the parents, the subtle expressions of which are captured in long close ups, allowing the viewer to connect with a character, not just their words. It makes you wonder what a version of the film with a more ruthless editing mandate would have looked like.
Light Years strives to stand out from the crowd with its non-linear narrative and earnest treatment of young people, but it trips over too many indie drama cliches (characters wandering aimlessly through the woods, a young girl bringing her disconnected family back together, etc.) to leave a lasting impression. Campbell clearly knows how to utilise cinema to tactile, mesmeric effect; hopefully we’ll see more of that in her future work and less waffle.
Light Years is now on limited release across the UK.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★