LFF 2019: Pink Wall Review
Although Pink Wall (2019) opens on a rowdy family gathering in a local pub, the only people we see in the scene are Jenna (Tatiana Maslany) and Leon (Jay Duplass), the camera trained on the happy couple as they joke about themselves and the roles they play in their relationship. Things are all innocent enough, until an offhand comment (and the word ‘cuck’) turns things sour, the couple quickly retreating outside to avoid a punch-up, now suddenly arguing about remarks which just moments ago they were laughing about. It’s a superb scene, and one that perfectly encapsulates what’s to come throughout the rest of Tom Cullen’s touching drama, the many joyful times we see between the pair often teetering on the brink of tension and collapse – something that will be all too familiar to anyone who has ever experienced the trials and tribulations of being in a long-term relationship.
Even those who find Jenna and Leon’s situation hard to relate to will find Cullen’s film still resonates with them, his tender story and beautiful characterisation fascinating and deeply immersive. However, it is his use of non-linear structure throughout Pink Wall that makes Jenna and Leon’s narrative particularly effective, Cullen jumping back and forth between six specific occasions in their life together, each of these moments significant for very different reasons. Whether they’re alone or with friends and family, Cullen uses each scene to show how their relationship changes over the years, earlier, happy times sitting uncomfortably alongside later periods when their differences are making things harder to cope with. These comparisons make the couple’s situation all the more tragic, especially when we see side by side how joyful the pair were when they first met, and how they struggle to recapture that spark years later.
Although these time jumps are signposted with title cards (telling us what year in their relationship it is), Cullen also employs a compelling visual style to help guide us through Jenna and Leon’s story, switching between aspect ratios and film formats to portray the different periods in their lives. Earlier moments they spend together have a more classic look (4:3 aspect ratio and a grainier style), while their later years are shot using more modern filmmaking techniques, Cullen returning to the expansive, widescreen format we’re now so used to seeing on cinema screens. It’s an arresting method and all beautifully shot by cinematographer Bobby Shore, the warmer colours of the older formats cosy and inviting, almost as if we’re reminiscing with Jenna and Leon about the wonderful, romantic times they shared in the past. By comparison, the later instances we see are almost clinical, the shots bigger and showing more detail, but losing some of the intimacy of the older style – much like Jenna and Leon’s love for each other. Chris Hyson’s striking score similarly reflects the changes in their relationship between time periods, switching from affectionate and hopeful to heartbreakingly melancholic, something that is particularly powerful towards the end of the film.
Yet often the most effective part of Pink Wall is the performances Cullen is able to coax from his brilliant cast, his semi-improvised approach lending the whole film a compelling sense of realism rarely captured onscreen. His decision to leave the camera rolling as the cast (many of them non-professional) talk about anything and everything is gripping and often hilarious, their real thoughts sometimes spilling out and lending the whole film an invigorating energy. However, it is the central performances from Tatiana Maslany and Jay Duplass that are the most wonderful to see, their portrayals authentic and captivating, both of them able to effortlessly switch between the funnier aspects of the story, and the more poignant. They bring the pair to life, their intimate, natural chemistry startlingly raw – almost as if we’re watching two friends we’ve known for years. For this reason, we almost don’t want Pink Wall to end when it does, so enraptured are we by Jenna and Leon’s world and the moments they share, even if it is sometimes too painful to watch.
While the non-linear relationship drama is nothing new (see Blue Valentine (2010), 500 Days of Summer (2009), 5x2 (2004) and many more), Cullen’s exhilarating approach gives his film a freshness that is hard not to fall in love with. Merging a beautifully constructed story with stunning visual styles and fascinating performances, it’s a realistic, moving film that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure, especially if you happen to see your own past or present relationships reflected in Jenna and Leon’s.