Oz Film Festival: The Death and Life of Otto Bloom
“He's smart, he's sexy, he's from the future – what more do you want?” Otto Bloom (Xavier Samuel) is just such a man. He suffers from a previously unknown condition called retrochronology, meaning that his life is lived in reverse, so our future is his past, and he loses his memories of the future as he goes on. If you were to meet him, he'd remember what happens to you before they happen, then forget them once they have. Dr Ada Fitzgerald (played at different ages by Rachel Ward and Matilda Brown, Ward's daughter) is the researcher who discovers Otto's condition, and soon they become closer...
There's something pleasingly low-key about The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, a debut feature from writer-director Cris Jones. The film's premise isn't especially original. See, for example, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, done with much bigger star names and a considerably higher budget. Jones' film takes a different tack, telling its story as a faux-documentary, with quite a few nods to the style of the films of Errol Morris. So we have participants in the story interviewed, talking to camera. Primary among these is Ada (Rachel Ward), a researcher who encounters Otto and discovers his secret. In addition, we have 'dramatic reconstructions', surveillance footage, newspaper headlines, television news items, still photographs, animations (including extracts from work by Otto in his career as an artist), and archive footage from back in the day when amateur filmmakers had video and Super 8mm to work with. A first-time director is often fruitfully partnered by an experienced cinematographer, and here László Baranyai handles the different formats involved with aplomb. The interviews are shot with modern digital cameras, as are the reconstructions, the latter often in black and white. The video and home-movie archive footage was shot on actual VHS and Super 8mm cameras, and has very visible lines and grain respectively, especially if you watch this on a cinema screen.
Xavier Samuel, may play the title role and get top billing, and is suitably inscrutable for most of the way, but the heart of the film rests with the woman in his life. This is Rachel Ward's first acting role in nine years, and her first in a cinema feature for twenty-two. (She's established herself as a director in the meantime, with an impressive big-screen debut in 2009 with Beautiful Kate.) It's because of her – and younger self Matilda Brown - that the film becomes a touching if bittersweet love story, as she knows more about him as he knows less about her, and more than a somewhat slight film of ideas, intriguing though they are.
The Death and Life of Otto Bloom was the closing film at the Oz Film Festival A future British release is to be confirmed.