Seat In Shadow **
Starring: David Sillars, Jonathan Leslie, Marcella McIntosh, Lee Partridge
Director: Henry Coombes
From Scottish artist-turned-director Henry Coombes comes his second feature film, Seat In Shadow. An experimental film about experimental therapy, a film that starts out as a character piece ends as something far more symbolic and abstract. But with a difficult cast of characters, it hardly makes for pleasurable viewing.
Albert (Sillars) is an ageing painter who lives in squalid chaos. Trying his hand as a therapist, he takes on Ben, the depressed grandson (Leslie) of his friend (McIntosh), as a patient, on whom he tries various Jung-inspired techniques before becoming inexorably more and more tied up with his life, friends and tempestuous love life with on-and-off boyfriend Adam (Partridge). But as Ben’s behaviour becomes more and more volatile, Albert blurs the lines between therapist, mentor and friend.
Both Albert and Ben are deeply flawed characters. Ben is shallow, stubborn and obsessed with youth. A child of Generation Z, he is unsettled, discontent and uncomfortable with face to face interaction, preferring his idealised world-view to reality. Albert is a New Age recluse whose opinion of his own creativity and wisdom makes him – and those around him – think it affords him the status of a sage. His wild paintings, penchant for drugs and unconventional lifestyle are clearly intended to depict him as some alternative guru, but he is, in fact, just foolish, irritating and egotistical. Sillars does play the part with aplomb, but opposite Leslie, whose acting goes little beyond reciting the lines and pouting, it makes for exasperating viewing.
Initially, the majority of the action plays out through the therapy in Albert’s living room. But after a bizarre sex sequence in the interior of a motorway sign bridge… thing… (Google won’t even tell me what the official term is for this…? Answers on a postcard), the action begins to bleed into the outside world. When it’s contained within his home, Albert’s idiosyncrasies are explainable and easy to dismiss as mere quirkiness. In the real world, however, he is deliberately bizarre, to the point of haughty self-aggrandisement. As he lovingly carries a cheese plant into a nightclub, whose leaves he has affectionately moisturised with a banana skin, his hippy dippy peace-and-love act becomes completely unbearable to watch.
Opposite, Ben is equally unwatchable. Jonathan Leslie has been cast to be a youthful object, beautiful in counterpoint to Albert’s grotesquery. Except his duck-faced doe-eyed angst-ridden strop-fest makes him about as desirable as a pavement-trampled chip naan. Ben should have been the yin to Albert’s yang; a recognisable and accessible entry-point to balance the foibles of the elder man. Instead, where Albert is chalk, Ben is a screeching fruit bat.
Coombes’ visual art is abstract, amusing and droll, but where he seems adept at creating static images that speak volumes to his audience, it appears that his filmmaking ability falls somewhat short. Apart from some adventurous editing that *sometimes* makes for intriguing viewing, the rest of Seat In Shadow is nothing less than a barely watchable muddle of whingeing irritating narcissists.
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