Friday, 12 October 2018

Zelos - Film Review

What: Zelos
Digital release date: 13 October 2018
Written by: Claire J Harris
Directed by: Jo-Anne Brechin
Featuring: Shannon Ashlyn, Ainslie McGlynn, and Ben Mortely
Shannon Ashlyn and Ben Mortely
Zelos is the Greek work for both passion and jealousy and Harris' film of the same title is about that and so much more. Having won a slew of awards from film festivals across the globe, the film has its digital release today in iTunes Store, Amazon Prime, and Google Play.

Zelos is the first feature film for both Harris and Brechin. Originally a short story by Harris, the two of them developed the idea into a film script when they met at AFTRS. Two years after graduating they finally had the film in the can so to speak. In 2017 it was released on the big screen and now it is available for general consumption through your favourite digital outlet.

Zelos is the story of a thirty-something middle class couple who are literally crossing the threshold to live together. It could be said the details of the film are cliche; Sarah (Ashlyn) sleeps with someone while on holiday and Bernard (Mortley) spends the rest of the film trying to come to terms with it. Both of them are desperate to hold the relationship together.

It is said that one person in a relationship is always more invested than the other and in Zelos it is Bernard who is that person. We never really find out why Sarah went on holiday without Bernard although towards the end it becomes apparent there were miscommunications long before the moment the film starts the story.

Counterpoint to Sarah and Bernard's story is the relationship between Rebecca (McGlynn) and her husband. The desperation with which Sarah and Bernard are working to hold their relationship together is counterpoint to how carelessly Rebecca's marriage is allowed to fall apart. Add the subtext of Bernard having always had a secret crush on Rebecca and you have the ingredients for a fairly tried and true relationship drama (it is billed as a dramedy but I didn't find much to laugh about).

Don't worry though, there is a much deeper commentary in the film than first meets the eye. Having read interviews and publicity I am not sure Harris even knows what an incisive commentary on the relationship dilemmas of modern times she has written in Zelos. Underlying all of these people and their relationships lies the question of partnerships as property.

Historically marriage was always connected to transfers of wealth and property. In a world where everyone has an independent means of income (educated middle class Sydney for example), the financial transactions are no longer central to the need for partnering.

The other element of classical marriage contracts was the woman as being a element of property requisite to the exchange transaction. Getting in the way of that is that pesky feminist revolution which gained so much ground in the 20th century.

Finally, for women in the past sex meant children which meant an inability to provide due to pregnancy, birthing, and then nourishing multiple mouths. With the advent of birth control came sexual liberation. In the modern age and in first world countries the idea of woman as property is not incumbent.

It is this idea which Zelos incidentally explores and struggles with in an intriguing fashion. It raises bigger questions. As Rebecca points whilst disparaging When Harry Met Sally, we are expected to have sex with a lot of people and then get married and just sleep with one person for the rest of our lives. We can blame the Disney princesses all we like, but the manifesto for the role of women has been in place for millennia prior to us. Bernard's struggle, whilst seeming to be patriarchal bullshit is still subtextually wired into our society. It is no accident this is Bernard's story and not Sarah's.

I really enjoyed this film and the question it raises about what partnerships are in this new world, especially in light of gay marriage plebiscites, the religious right push for celibacy and fidelity, and the questions about the character and behaviour of far too many politicians to enumerate. We are struggling with these questions globally and at an intrinsic level.

Zelos is not a perfect film however. Sarah and Bernard are supposedly both writers. Bernard has lost his mojo and been swallowed by the corporate world of app development. In the course of his relationship struggles however, he pulls out his post-it notes and laptop and writes a screenplay.

There are some writer group scenes (which are meant to be comic relief I think), where he writes the screenplay for the movie we are watching. One of those 'the play within the play' kind of thing. In the group he is told it has been done before. The idea is stale.

I think this is a moment for Harris to thumb her nose at someone who may have made those comments about this film. Whilst I didn't like those scenes, good on her for going ahead with it. It works if you have something new to show, and in Zelos she does.

I adore the design palette and the colour grading of the film. It is so refreshing to see a film which is not blurange. It has a very sun-washed look with subtle sepia tones which gives it a kind of classic feel. It is like watching a bittersweet memory, but a fresh one..

Zelos is a great movie to download and watch on a quiet night in. There is something comforting about watching others struggle with what we are struggling with and this film provides some deeper food for thought and perhaps some insight as to why relationships really are so hard.

3.5 Stars

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