Ren Zelen heads for the sun-drenched celluloid of award winning Gozo thanks to Raindance Film Festival...
Director: Miranda Bowen
Writer: Miranda Bowen, Steven Sheil
Starring: Joseph Kennedy Ophelia Lovibond, Daniel Lapaine, Olivia Grant, John Bowe
In the opening scene of Gozo, Miranda Bowen's directorial debut, we find ourselves accompanying a young flame-haired woman as she glides warily through a rowdy party looking for her boyfriend. We already know what she suspects – he is up on a balcony having energetic sex with another girl.
Joe, (Joseph Kennedy) her boyfriend, turns to see her distressed, tearful face and hear her dazed, whispered words - ‘Joe, why are you doing this?’
As the libidinous pair shrug off the unpleasantness of the scene, we follow Joe’s ex-girl (Olivia Grant) to a nearby canal where, distraught, she jumps in and drowns herself.
Fast forward to six months later, Joe and the ‘other woman’ Lucille (Ophelia Lovibond) are now in a close relationship. We see them revelling in the bright sunshine as they travel by ferry to Gozo, a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Malta, hoping to renovate and reside in a house together as Joe works at his job of recording sounds to make into soundtracks and jingles. Thoughts of the dead girl are far away.
Their new life together on the sunny island seems idyllic – they have an old car, an income, a house with breath-taking views and a swimming pool. Their relationship is playful, affectionate, sexy and contented. But one day, Joe hears some unusual sounds on one of his new recordings and a series of events begin to unfold, seemingly unrelated, but creating an increasing sense of unease and disjointedness.
The water in their home becomes contaminated - Joe is distracted by the poster of a missing girl, a redhead – he sees Lucille get into a jeep with a stranger - he glimpses a woman who seems about to jump from a cliff into the sea. Joe has nightmares about being underwater and becomes obsessed with decoding the strange noises on his recording, he begins to drink heavily and loses interest in everything else around him.
The sun, sand and sea of the island take on a relentless, stifling quality that slowly begins to suffocate the joy out of Joe and Lucille’s relationship. The guy who gave Lucille a lift is a single American neighbour who pays her increasing attention as Joe’s neglect and indifference begins to hurt and frustrate her. Meanwhile, Joe deciphers the odd sounds on his recording - they seem to form the words - ‘Joe, why are you doing this…’
Despite scenes of sun-drenched beaches, a relaxed lifestyle and joyful celebrations, Bowen’s movie Gozo is infused with a sense of melancholy. The ocean and the experience of drowning take on the more metaphorical aspects of being overwhelmed by the dangerous depths of the human psyche and the ability of the subconscious to bubble up grief and guilt until it drowns sanity itself.
The film documents the deterioration of Joe’s grasp of reality and of his relationship with Lucille. I have heard the film touted in some quarters as a horror movie, but it certainly is not that. There are some dreamily evocative scenes where Joe hallucinates and conjures up ghosts and there is a particularly inventive and striking use of colour and sound during these episodes, (echoing Joe’s own purported line of work).
The characters are not necessarily meant to have our sympathy but director Miranda Bowen gently escalates the tension that allows us to feel the sense of hopelessness that draws them towards a seemingly inescapable denouement.
Gozo proves to be a trance-like, pensive descent from joy to despair, but it can also be frustratingly vague as to why Joe all of a sudden develops a conscience and such an extreme sense of remorse, that it can tip him over the edge. We are left to sigh at a rather predictable and unsatisfactory final scene.
Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2016 All rights reserved.
Image - Raindance