Written and directed by Marcus Flemmings (Six Rounds), Fred is struggling to find his freedom in a modern Britain and Anna, an underappreciated but talented artist can’t seem to balance love with her work, she’s headed down a dangerous road, but can Fred help her? Starring: Jumaane Brown, Sarah Swain, Tábata Cerezo, Hester Ruoff, Shauna Rigard, Daniel Jordan, Thomasin Lockwood and Stella Taylor.
For Palindrome, it begins with the end, opening on a mysterious doctor and nurse, in a setting that would easily fit in the late 19th or early 20th century, if you’re hoping to get a grasp on this story quickly, it’s not going to make it easy for you. For the first half of the film it explores the life of Fred as he tries to navigate through the layers of his life, it’s almost Inception like in the way its presented. Each layer makes you question what’s real and what isn’t, initially Fred is in an extremely fragile state, when he learns of Anna’s impending demise, he can only remember that there’s something important he needs to do and strives to achieve his freedom to break out the memory from the depths of his mind. It’s a tricky web that he has to work his way through and each different aspect of his life represents another issue and many of them have a political statement to make, some of which do a more subtle job than others. The scenes are unsurprisingly more interesting when they tamper down the overt metaphors and let them come through more naturally, letting the audience consider the implications rather than telling them outright, the more straightforward start to come across as pontificating. However that amalgamation of different scenes and settings does allow for a great opportunity to use a variety of styles in both the cinematography (by Haider Zafar) and direction, which results in something that’s both aesthetically pleasing and effective for the story that they’re telling.
Once the film passes the half way mark, it segues into Anna’s story and the entire style, pace and colour scheme immediately changes gears from experimental to accessible, it falls very nicely into the style of modern crime films mixed with drama. It’s a stark change but Flemmings’ impressively makes that transition easily by quickly pushing forward into Anna’s backstory and preventing any possibility of it feeling jarring. Anna presents as a complex, troubled yet kind and talented character which is a fantastic thing to watch, it’s always a pleasure to see writing including complex female characters and it extends to the characters of both Anna’s current and ex-girlfriend, none of them feel one dimensional or lacking personality. It explores a myriad of issues within her story, but in a much more natural way than with Fred, handling self-confidence, depression, drug use and more without ever breaking from its smooth progression, which is impressive given that the story is told in a non-linear fashion. It’s also great to see a convincing portrayal of a lesbian relationship, too often filmmakers attempt to include one that has zero recognition to real life, whereas here it feels genuine. Flemmings’ version almost feels like Mae Martin’s Feel Good, although granted with a darker tone.
Palindrome provides an interesting viewing experience through being almost a hybrid of genres, not simply that it blends them but doing so in a way that’s simultaneously arthouse or experimental and having visible influence from mainstream cinema, such as Tarantino or Stahelski. It’s not often that a film attempts such a thing but mixing the two makes for an effective style overall. It also feels like it has a strong theatre influence, especially in its earlier dialogue, feeling very much in the vein of the Queen’s English and exaggerated pronunciation, it can be slightly over the top at times when combined with the choice to use black and white but not enough to become distracting or off-putting.
The acting is not perfectly consistent throughout, the moments in which the lead actors are asked to tackle stronger emotions prove a struggle but otherwise they give solid performances. This is also reflected in the directorial and music choices, when things get sentimental the film leans more on cliché rather than the strong style that it’s established otherwise. The doctor character also comes across somewhat heavy handed, with a stereotypical bullying streak that feels much less refined than the rest of the film and sticks out as more of an outlier, it would have been nice to see it done in a more quietly sadistic or emotionally manipulative manner rather than leaning towards the physical. However, Thomasin Lockwood’s performance as Maira is a stand out turn, her energy and pace are brilliant and her dialogue is almost a monologue with each iteration, which adds a nice change of tone to the film and a little dose of fun.
At times it pushes a little too hard on the political agenda or sentiment but for the most part, Palindrome is a fresh, intriguing and engrossing experience. It crosses genres and holds a strong experimental vibe while adding an edge of popular cinema. Opening on a note of intrigue, it’s carried throughout with its complex characters, unexpected turns and compelling style.