After dashing madly about the Cinema Nova in Carlton, Melbourne from the wrong pitch-black-cinema screening the wrong movie lurking out into the shadows and chatter of the right cinema – its seats filling with the right audience of media with their right glasses of red wine and roasted popcorn, I squirrelled myself away to sit back and be mystified by David Lowery’s film, A Ghost Story.
And this big screen movie experience is definitely unlike anything I have met before.
In fact I had a really hard time what to make of it.
But through the perfect timing of an incredible birthday trip to the Mildura Writer’s Festival mere days later – to be surrounded by friends, old and new – one, Australian acclaimed poet Les Murray (Les convinced me to eat his ‘tripe’ – a dish specially prepared at a candle lit feast cooked by Stefano, washed down with incredible wines, all on the banks of the Great Murray River.
To be honest the tripe was delicious, kind of comforting in a toasted marrow fat kind of way – I like marrow and I love lamb’s fat but I have years of child-tripe-protestations-saying NO, never ever eat tripe again! I think a cousin must have teased me about it being stomach’s lining – as an older, wiser taunting cousin does.
But here surrounded by the majesty of the Murray River I found what I needed, the space to let this movie imprint it’s haunting imagery upon me.
The Beauty of the Murray River.
Producers: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Adam Donaghey
Cinematographer: Andrew Droz Palermo
Starring: Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.
A Ghost Story invites us into the tender space of young love shared by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck and the tragic aftermath of grief as a fatal car crash leaves C dead and transformed as a ghost throughout the movie.
Landlocked by love in one state of being and one place, C remains beneath a sad and forlorn sheet with cut out holes for eyes, to witness time and his lover change without him.
Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, Aint Them Bodies Saints) had been wanting to tell a ghost story for years with the classic iconography of the bed-sheet ghost and with Affleck as no ordinary ghost he achieves that.
Lowery sets the visual tone that this is not a traditional motion picture by shooting the film in the 1:33 aspect ratio, meaning the image width is only slightly greater than its height. This film technique enabled Lowery to create a towering presence of the shrouded ghost, a still and dominating presence within each scene.
The cinematography is pared back with the glare and grit of everyday realism and it is in the familiar and the known that Lowery captures us.
Through doorframes – a fascination of Lowery’s – both dark and functional, they frame Affleck and Mara in ordinary rooms of no import, but it is in their lack of adornment where the intimate confrontations and revelatory keypoints are revealed without massive movement or violence.
There is something to a movie with long stretches bereft of dialogue, we remain in the stillness as the ghost does and without distraction we sink further into the tragedy of love lost without goodbye and time moving forward where the loved one occupies no space only in memory.
In an unforgettable scene, Mara’s luminous distinctive features convey all the profound grief you thought you’d need dialogue for. In isolation, she stuffs an entire family size chocolate pie in a single four-minute take. The body of food is ill equipped to replace her loss of C.
In a later scene, we witness the profound pathos of love and of lost hearts craving connection through the ghost’s presence.
When M finally leaves their home, she embeds a lover’s note into a door frame. The repetitious scratching by a ghost without hands is both tragic and beautiful and as he seeks to unearth the note oblivious to the passage of time without him, we are reminded his sense of identity is derived from his attachment as the beloved.
As I left the cinema into the noise and bustle of my ordinary world, I was unsure how I felt about the movie, in fact I had to sit with it for a few days.
I felt haunted by the film’s imagery of tender grieving and the paradox of grieving a love torn apart by unforeseen tragedy of living with love separated from the adored one.
Through the art of film Lowery poses the aesthetic as a response of grief and catastrophe.
A Ghost Story penetrates as a poignant reminder that the blessing of our good luck is to sit in witness to an event that is possible to each of us.
Our shared humanity wants to vouch safe the journey of love and for it not to leave us ill-prepared for the space that remains in the absence of the loved one.
Read my full review of A Ghost Story by David Lowery, published here for Go Movie Review X
My beautiful work space for the day – at Cinema Nova, Carlton Melbourne.