Writer and Director: Tom Cullen
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
British films have held their own at this year’s London Film Festival. Despite tiny budgets, British directors have made movies just as good as those boasting budgets of millions. Pink Wall, the directorial debut by actor Tom Cullen was made with £100,000 and was shot in nine days. Nevertheless, his film charting a relationship over six years is a classy affair.
In the middle of the film there is a key scene when the couple, Jenna and Leon, are guests at a dinner party, two years into their relationship, still in its honeymoon period. This busy, raucous scene, with the guests arguing and joking about sex, is, Cullen explained at the public screening, a nod to his hero John Cassavetes, and his film A Woman Under the Influence. But there are other guests at this table, too: Richard Linklater, and his films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, glimpsing the lives of the same man and woman over the years; Mike Leigh in the manner that some of Cullen’s scenes are improvised rather than scripted; and also Woody Allen (though Cullen doesn’t cite him) in the way that Jenna and Leon bicker in public.
Despite these muses, Cullen still finds his own vision, and this is mainly seen in his experimentation with form. The early days of Leon and Jenna’s relationship are filmed in 4:3 ratio with the square grainy shots adding a sepia nostalgia to this halcyon period. Later scenes employ wider formats underlining the distance that grows between the two lovers.
It might sound all a bit hectic, but the transitions are smooth and the acting of the two leads gives the film its solid foundations. Jay Duplass plays Leon, an American DJ, who really wants to be a photographer. He’s talkative and decent, but even though he proclaims that he is cool, he can’t quite shake off the gawky teenager that he once was. Cullen’s partner Tatiana Maslany is Jenna, also American, confident and fun, driven in her career. Both are remaking themselves in London, away from their pasts and their parents.
Cullen suggests that he has given a balanced report of both of his characters, and we see snapshots of their lives away from each other, Leon buying weed off a drug dealer, Jenna getting ready to go out. However, despite his claim the film does seem to favour one of them, but it would be interesting to see the film again, to see in a second viewing if the sympathy switches in any way.
Pink Wall is only 81 minutes long, which seems about right for this intimate portrait of two people. It also feels very real, with joy and sadness running through the six time periods like blood in veins. It’s a remarkable first film, and thankfully it should be getting a limited release soon, and cinema is the place to see it. Maybe not with a date, or just maybe it’s the best date night film ever?
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 2 October to 13 October