FILM REVIEW: Finding Ophelia

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Stephen Rutterford

Shakespeare’s most haunting heroine Ophelia may be side-lined by Hamlet and suspected by her family, but she has inspired artists for centuries. Played on stage and screen by actors from Sarah Siddons to Jean Simmons and Kate Winslet, while a lasting romantic impression of her death was painted by John Everett Millais, Ophelia’s trajectory from eager lover to tragic suicide continues to fascinate. Stephen Rutterford’s dreamlike 70-minute film Finding Ophelia offers a new angle on her image by wondering ‘where do you think we go to when we go to sleep?’

Overloaded by drink and drugs, artist Will (Jimmy Levar) is troubled by a beautiful but unreachable woman who appears in his dreams night after night. Unable to concentrate on work and preferring to wander the streets of New York, Will asks a psychiatrist for help but is prescribed pills that transform his dreams, convincing him that the mysterious Ophelia (Christina Chu-Ryan) is out there somewhere, if only he can find her.

Finding Ophelia is an unusual and technically very accomplished stream of consciousness film that replicates the visual impression of being in a heightened dreamlike or alcoholic state very well. And there is a real beauty in the way that Rutterford – acting as Director and Cinematographer – both presents and lights his city-scapes, illuminating the grubby, deserted streets while finding comfort and desolation in them during his character’s meanderings.

Rutterford makes the city seem rich but also washed-out, emphasising Will’s existence as an absent-presence within the urban setting. For the most part Will is not lucid, and Rutterford uses the camera to create a disorientating effect in which images spin, bulge or fracture as each night plays out. Recurring images of the silent Ophelia, patterns created in water and a sense of mania build within the movie, taking Will further from normality. Rutterford overlaps dream and fantasy sequences which become harder to distinguish as the ethereal notion of Ophelia is tainted or at least grounded in flesh with some brief but unpleasant visuals involving the bodies of dead farm creatures.

The story itself takes place over several days and gives Finding Ophelia the opportunity to explore the slow disintegration of Will’s professional life as several audio messages from an angry manager are played over the footage, as well as Will’s contrasting experiences of night and day as he comes to rely on his prescription tablets. A striking impression of Will’s now calm sleep is created by graphically combining his face shape with waves washing gently across it that brings a rare moment of peace.

Yet, the structuring of this narrative and the almost universally stiff nature of the performances doesn’t match-up with Rutterford’s more accomplished technical control. Relatively little is said but the script is weak including an overly stagy argument with a girlfriend who feels ignored, a brief interlude with two women repeating Ophelia’s lines and interactions with hospital staff later in the film. Rutterford is aiming for sinister, overbearing and unnerving but instead dialogue feels clunky and distracting.

Rutterford is a promising, unconventional filmmaker and there is plenty of craft in Finding Ophelia, but this is a one-man band that needs a writer to give shape and purpose to the abstract plot while building credibility within the characterisation. Using an experimental approach, Finding Ophelia is a partially successful and visual arresting addition to the many works keen to expand on the life and death of Hamlet’s forgotten love.

Release Date 23 June

The Reviews Hub Score

Technically promising

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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