Number One, Longing. Number Two, Regret. Review
The prospects for new young British filmmaking talent to find the kind of funding necessary to make a fully-fledged feature film are not good at the moment. If a filmmaker wants to make a movie that has any personal vision and integrity, their only option is to do it on low- to no-budget with little chance of it being seen by the public. To reach a larger audience and receive widespread distribution, it would seem that the scripts and any personality or originality that goes with them are inevitably watered down to suit committees responsible for the allocation of public funding and lottery money, so that they meet the requirements of having a widespread and commerical appeal. Having compromised their vision to at least make their mark and get a film made, the hope must be that they can more easily find the funding for those cherished personal projects, but alas, even established and acclaimed talented British filmmakers still struggle to get further films made in the UK.
The rather more affordable option of shooting on High-Definition Digital Video and finding a sympathetic independent company willing to go the way of direct to DVD distribution is a growing alternative to giving new talent the chance to get that important experience behind a camera and show what they can do. Peccadillo Pictures continue to support this venture with their praiseworthy British Independent Cinema imprint, presenting here the first feature film by young director Neil Wassell. Number One, Longing. Number Two, Regret would seem to be just such a calling card, but as a recipient of Lottery funding it does however go for the crowd-pleasing route of being basically a chase film rather than say an indie film confronting personal or social issues. If it is somewhat lacking in regards to the plot, script and some of the acting performances, the film does at least show ability, promise and originality in terms of the technical aspects of filmmaking.
John Speers (Paul Conway) is the man on the run. In hiding for a number of years, never leaving his room, the victim of a mysterious trauma in his past, he is lured out by a murder that takes place in a neighbouring apartment. As the prime suspect, Speers is interrogated by police detectives Kenosha (Jenny Agutter) and Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), but when he escapes from custody, the police begin to realise that there would appear to be more to their suspect than they first thought. But with Speers having been drawn back out into the open, there are parties other than the police interested in making contact with him again.
While not technically perfect, director Wassell at least understands the nature of the classic thriller/chase genre - in a Third Man or Hitchcockian fashion - presenting it reasonably well, maintaining a steady pace, a sense of intrigue and making good use of locations to vary the film’s tone and colouration. Realism isn’t so important here as much as mood, and the film flits beautifully between grim Victorian-looking bare police cells to colourful brothels, chiaroscuro-lit London and Parisian streets and dimly illuminated corporate offices. While you can get away with a lack of realism and, to some extent, even allow for a certain amount of suspension of belief, conviction and credibility are also important, and it’s here that Number One, Longing. Number Two, Regret has problems. The acting is variable, and the quality can easily be discerned between the experienced actors and the less-experienced, though even Jenny Agutter struggles with a poorly defined character. This is particularly a problem since the credibility of the film hinges on the performance of the lead Paul Conway, and he singularly fails to convince as a tragic action hero with a mysterious past.
The script however is no great help to him, taking a very long time to reveal anything meaningful about his character’s past. A little mystery can be a good thing and a thriller doesn’t necessarily have to make too much sense, but Number One, Longing. Number Two, Regret remains confusing and largely incomprehensible right through to the end. A little background earlier on would have gone a long way to allowing the viewer to accept Speers’ unconvincingly eluding police captivity, his cat and mouse playing with Kenosha turning up unexpectedly in her apartment, his bafflingly easy escapes from Woods, the reverence that his prostitute friend Jacq has for him, and the numerous situations that seem contrived for the purpose of introducing generic thriller elements rather than making any narrative sense. Without this, Speers’ actions and motivations remain incomprehensible, his abilities inconsistent and his situation unfathomable for such a long period that it makes it very difficult for the viewer to sympathise with him as the story unfolds. For all its visual style and flair, superb use of locations, marvellous lighting and a fine music score, with unsympathetic and unfathomable characters, awkwardly performed by the actors, the film has an overall very hollow ring to it.
Number One Longing Number Two Regret is released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures as part of their British Independent Cinema imprint. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, is Region 2 encoded and in PAL format.
Filmed on Digital Video and looking to be transferred directly from the digital source, the image quality is flawless and just about perfect. The colour grading is outstanding, slightly dampening the palette to lessen the clinical edge of the HD image. Lighting and tone is perfect also, allowing for remarkable clarity and deep, solid blacks with adequate detail. Only one little issue with the transfer prevents it from being perfect and that is that it appears to lack anamorphic flagging. The anamorphic image is therefore squashed up and needs to be manually switched to widescreen. If you are unable to change the ratio on your display device – on a PC or laptop for example – it’s going to be a major problem. While I was able to view the DVD perfectly fine on a normal player and widescreen television, I was unable to take screenshots for this review at the correct ratio.
The audio track is also of an extremely high quality, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Dialogue and sounds come across perfectly clearly with adequate weight and tone. One or two parts might not be perfectly clear, but are probably down to the original recording. With a strong music score kicking into life now and again, the surround mix is well used and quite impressive.
Optional English and French subtitles are included. They are in a yellow font, but it is a dull yellow that doesn’t detract too much from the colour schemes of the film.
To complement a strong package there are plenty of extra features. There is a full length Commentary with the director Neil Wassell. From the sampling I made of the commentary it seems quite active, the director concentrating on the technical aspects of the production and locations rather than merely relating what is happening. That might not have been a bad thing with this film though. Director of photography Simon Dennis provides contributions. The pair also point out the Star Wars references throughout – a regrettable indulgence that doesn't inspire you to take the filmmakers at all seriously. One particularly wishes they had resisted the naming of Jeremy Bulloch’s character as Robert Fett.
In addition to the commentary there is also a flashy Trailer (2:02), a Making The Movie (20:34) featurette, where the director talks again about how the film was made rather than why, with behind the scenes footage and snippets of interviews from other cast members. An animated slideshow Scrapbook (5:09) presents a few pages from the script, a shooting schedule and still and clips from the film. A couple of Bloopers consist of Jeremy Bulloch fooling around and a nasty-looking fall taken by Paul Conway.
Full credit to Peccadillo Pictures for supporting new talent in British cinema, but despite the strong technical ability on display, Number One, Longing. Number Two, Regret unfortunately just may not be good enough to attract wider public attention. Once again the most important element and reason for making a film hasn’t been given enough attention – the script. And, having chosen to make a thriller, equal importance must then be given to entertaining the viewer or at least keeping them involved, but with a weak, confusing script, characters who never come to life and some unconvincing central performances, the film ultimately fails to make the mark. Barring a minor issue with anamorphic flagging, Peccadillo have also done justice to the film on DVD, with a high quality digital transfer of the film and plenty of supplemental features.