Viennale 2013 Review: I USED TO BE DARKER, A Worthwile Drifter Film Without Too Much Movement
With Matthew Porterfield, it is all about drifting and floating, just that there is not much travelling going on. A dreamy feeling of detachment conquers I Used To Be Darker and makes it a cinematographic pleasure.
Undoubtedly the film does not get rid of its clichés dealing with a family in crisis and Porterfield has been less conventional before, but there is an honesty about the characters that makes the director's latest, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, a captivating picture.
There are four protagonists in a story about a dysfunctional family and their ways of dealing with separation of certain kinds. Northern Irish teenager Taryn escapes from her European home and a failed love affair, arriving at the home of her aunt Kim, played by Kim Taylor, who is in the very process of separating from Bill, played by Ned Oldham.
Their daughter Abby has to struggle with the new situation just as much as anyone in the family. The director unfolds a family portrait where no big changes are about to come once the audience knows the details about the characters.
There is a lot of fighting and screaming going on but Porterfield has a distant approach, giving room to the audience without losing their emotional involvement. The emotional guideline is delivered by songs.
Both Kim and Bill are musicians and try to get their feelings into the music they are playing. The movie echoes Once by John Carney without really touching the same issues. Porterfield lets the music play without explaining, it is just part of the lives of his protagonists.
He avoids sentimentality by using long takes, having a range of emotions going through his first-time actors that all deliver amazing performances. Porterfield does not love to cut too often and it serves his film very well.
It is not only a sense of realism that is created due to the duration of the shots but also a beautifully lit handheld portrait of relations within a family. The film shows that separation can be as brutal when there is no spatial severance. The long shot helps to establish a mood of longing and repulsion, anger and sadness.
A sexual-suicidal tension runs through the images, the movement lies in the pictures though everyone seems to stand still. In a breathtaking concert scene the camera moves around a jumping crowd, the rhythm of the drums sucks you into the world of the film and it becomes apparent that life is an eternal dance between movement and stagnation.
Most of the situations feel familiar, it is nothing new that Porterfield is able to narrate in I Used To Be Darker. In the end he tries to stick a little bit too much to some scriptwriting rules that he would not need at all and which make his film appear in a less truthful light.
Porterfield has famously tattooed the name of the film on his arm for a Kickstarter campaign and one can feel that he made I Used To Be Darker with his heart. His direction is superb and he deals with interesting topics in the right way. For real greatness it lacks some originality in the third act or better it should have avoided something like an "act" at all.