For my seventy-fifth review I want to introduce you to one of my all time favourite films but one that you probably haven't seen. In 2009 a British film called Franklyn was released onto the screens from writer and director Gerald McMorrow. For the modest budget of £6M McMorrow delivered an astonishingly beautiful and well crafted tale of four individuals lost in their own separate lives and slowly brought to a climax by the clockwork mechanisms of the fates that first drove them to despair. The result is a film unlike any other, a journey to explore the nature of religion and belief, destiny and coincidence, angels and imaginary friends.
So why have you never heard of it? There's no single answer to that question. Released at roughly the same time as Watchmen it is fair to say that the film did not benefit from the comparison. Most cinema-goers will have been too preoccupied with its emotional cousin to see Franklyn and many of those that did mistook the gothic scenery and tension-filled soundtrack of Franklyn's trailer, both of which take up a very small part of the advertisement in reality, to indicate a combat-filled comic book thriller rather than the more sedate, brooding, multi-faceted film that it is. Franklyn's big weakness, if you can call it that, is that the plot reveals nothing about where it is going until it reaches its finale and if you're not the sort of person that can sit back and enjoy the ride without prodding your neighbour to ask questions you'll be among those lost long before the pay-off.
But I'll vigorously defend this film against any who might criticise it, because rarely have I watched a film I enjoyed as much as Franlyn. It is a film that knows what it wants to be and isn't afraid to take its own time getting to where it wants to go. There is a decided difference between a film that has a completely random collision of plot-threads and a film that simply looks like it is random until the final tapestry is revealed. Franklyn may lack explosions and violence, but it doesn't lack action and is surprisingly well paced if you're not expecting a comic book movie.
The actors and director alike seem absolutely devoted to the tale and the concepts they are portraying on screen. I whole-heartedly disagree with criticism of the casting of Ryan Phillippe and Sam Riley, both of whom give their characters real heart and believability. As for Eva Green, as far as I'm concerned one of the most talented actresses of her generation, words cannot describe how ably I was pulled into the world of broken doll Emilia and it feels very much a role that Green was born to play.
Much of the plot revolves around religion and the consequences of absolute belief. The gorgeous background of Meanwhile City is really just a looking glass into our own world where pop-stars, make-up and pop-culture have become the new gods, every bit as insipid as the judeo-christian deities of the previous centuries. We look at these icons as the Greeks looked to the Olympians, suggests McMorrow, never faltering in our belief that they will make our lives better. Franklyn confronts head on the question on the lips of every atheist that has ever lived: if God exists, then why is there pain and suffering in the world. The film extensively criticises blind faith and its ability to allow us to be controlled. Strange then that the final heartbeat of this film is one of belief and supernatural intervention. Just when we are sure that Franklyn is promoting a more realistic outlook on life, the cogs of the universe seem to turn to a perfect ending. The paradox doesn't stop at this apparent coincidence either; who on earth is Pastor Bone anyway? Why can he see Sally if she is not real and where do they disappear to at the end of the film? Is there a moment at the end where Emilia sees Meanwhile City? There are, quite frankly, enough tiny clues in the tangled web of this film to keep you thinking for days after you have watched it.
I adore this film. I adore it for its intelligence as it challenges and reaffirms my faith in one breath. I adore its simple elegance and the purity and cohesion of the story it is trying to tell. I adore it because that long journey, that half the people that saw this film when it came out thought was so arduous and boring, is actually the most imaginative and beautiful journey that cinema has taken me on in recent years. Like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this film is a road trip and the journey is absolutely as important as the destination. Those that have complained that the sublime conclusion in the last ten minutes of the film is not enough to justify the first eighty minutes have completely missed the point.
So if you want to try something thought-provoking, something different, something intelligent and mysterious and supernatural, go and buy yourself a copy of Franklyn. Pour yourself a glass of wine, recline on the sofa preferably with nothing else around to distract you and bathe in the beautiful darkness of Meanwhile City.