Oz Film Festival: Ellipsis Review
Sydney. Gazing at his phone as he crosses the road, Jasper (Benedict Samuel) bumps into Viv (Emily Barclay), causing her to drop and break hers. She’s due to fly out to meet her fiancé the next day, and with her phone in for repairs and not due back until the next morning, Jasper allows her to use his. And over a hot day and night in the city, they get to know each other…
The obvious comparison to Ellipsis is Before Sunrise (and, through that film, there’s more than a little Eric Rohmer in the mix) and it’s to Director David Wenham’s credit that it lives up to this comparison. As with Richard Linklater’s film, there’s not a great deal of plot as such. What the film is about is the interaction between its two very engaging lead characters, and with the people they meet during the day and night, and a growing bond between them. It’s a platonic bond, as we know from the outset that Viv is engaged, even though a will-they-or-won’t-they is certainly at the back of our minds as we watch.
A second strand in the film follows the mobile phone repairman (Ferdinand Hoang) during his day and at home with his wife and child, as he works on Viv’s phone and practises for his Australian citizenship test. Shot largely in static shots, these sequences effectively counterpoint the brisker, often handheld camerawork of the scenes with Viv and Jasper. As with Linklater's film – and Rohmer's, for that matter – Ellipsis is a film which shows that two characters walking and talking can be quite cinematic.
Ellipsis is also a valentine to Wenham’s home city, and not a touristic one at that. We only briefly see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and while Viv and Jasper do go to Bondi, we don’t have a view of the famous beach (which would be heaving anyway, given that we’re in the Australian summer). Our two protagonists’ journey starts in the CBD and takes in other parts of the city, with much of the nighttime scenes in King’s Cross, with a hilarious visit to a sex shop being the only scene in the film being family-unfriendly. When dawn breaks, we’re still in the Cross, and get to see the striking El Alamein Fountain come to life.
David Wenham had directed one of the segments of the portmanteau film The Turning, but this is his feature debut. It wasn’t intended to be, but when a feature project collapsed for funding reasons, this was the result. The film was workshopped by Barclay and Samuel in three days (the script is credited to them, Wenham and Gabrielle Wendelin) and shot in a further seven, with the dialogue mostly - though not entirely - improvised and often shot in a single take with two cameras.
Other than Barclay, Samuel and Hoang, there’s only one other professional actor in the film, with the rest of the cast being non-actors. That could be, and in other films often is, a recipe for disaster, but thanks to Wenham and his actors it works very well. Ellipsis is a film in a minor key, but it’s an engaging, and finally quite bittersweet one.
Ellipsis was the opening night film of the Oz Film Festival in London. A future British release is to be confirmed.