Love is, among many other magical things, the unexpected appearance of a cup of tea one nondescript morning. It says more than you think such ordinary things possibly could. It says I love you, I know you, and I don’t want anything else. A cup of tea, in its modesty, in its silent compose, is a declaration of love that is most poetic. I know this for sure because I once received a cup of tea, out of the blue, one rudimentary morning. And the woman who made it was love incarnate.
Thus, at the start of brilliantlove, when Manchester, a novice photographer, brews up some tea, pours it into a couple of cups and rests one beside a sleeping Noon, his girlfriend, a seemingly self-taught taxidermist, one knows, instinctively, that they are, as director Ashley Horner tells me, “absolutely in love with each other.” Humble? Yes. Ostensibly routine? Very much so, but it’s so incredibly romantic nonetheless.
I meet Horner on an appropriately sunshiny winter’s afternoon in the offices of Pinball films, a ‘bespoke producer of extreme, outside films’, which is housed in a compact room laden with various paraphernalia that gives it a sort of beatnik vibe. I only think this afterwards, but it reminds me of Manchester’s almost ‘art-like’ dwellings, and furthermore, the short exchange me and the director share over there being no milk – therefore we have herbal tea – could, in some ways, be a scene right out of the movie. Tea, tea, tea… such a profound thing it is.
“The script didn’t exist when we started out,” says Horner, explaining how brilliantlove was first engineered with writer Sean Conway. The latter had developed an interest in the subject of erotology and had wanted to advance it further. Cue Horner.
“We started to knock a few ideas out, each bringing something to the table like band members do when writing an album. We wrote maybe four different drafts of brilliantlove over two and a half years and it started as one thing, became another thing, and then something else but always at its heart were these two characters Manchester and Noon.
“And we knew we wanted to tell a love story, but one with explicit sex. Were we capable of doing this?”
It gets love tremendously right, but it’s not explicit in the sense of it being shocking. The sex is quite sincere. It’s real. It’s truthful. But it’s not, for example, as plucky as 9 Songs was in pushing acceptable and graphic depictions of sex outside of pornography, which itself portrayed sex as unfeigned and honest, but it is, like the latter, believable, as if we the audience are voyeurs peeking through a bedroom window. The sex is a little kinky, but then again ‘normal’ sex is if ever there is a definition of that. Consequently, brilliantlove doesn’t quite fit the bill of an avant-garde erotic-art movie, but does so as an original study of love.
“The film played at the Athens Film Festival last month and two girls came up to me and said ‘Are they lovers?’ and I said no, they’re actors, and they were like ah no.”
One can understand this enthusiastic response, as it’s a very believable romance, made all the more effective by both the brevity of dialogue and the tacit fervour of their direct and indirect embraces.
“Luckily Liam (Browne) and Nancy (Trotter Landry) did hit it off really well. There has to be a certain amount of maturity to jump around emotionally and handle it.”
Which shows. Their has to be a certain braveness or self-assurance to get naked in front of a crew and not only simulate sex, but to do so with someone you are not outside of this fantasy environment usually intimate with. It’s why, in some ways, Noon flips when she realises Manchester has publicly exhibited their intimate photos. Their world becomes commodified, no longer sacred. Their original title says something about this, the pretentiousness of some art, which is both admired and reviled simultaneously.
“When we started off the film it was originally called F*ckart, a critique of the art world and also about what Manchester made as a photographer, he made F*ckart, and we wrote a draft that was called that. But we couldn’t real it call it that. Northern Film and Media couldn’t back that.”
Which gladly they did because it is a sweet film with likeable but throw away characters, a well-shot flick stylistically if not a little contrived at times in narrative, and exceptional in its very northern production from finance to talent to base, but not so much in its explicit portrayal of sex or as an groundbreaking art house movie.
In some ways its flaws are good. The things that sometimes don’t work serve to remind you of the things that do. And then there are the unexpected bits that make you smile. Like ice pops, the pet name ‘dick’, and little titbits captured on a dictaphone.
It’s like tea see.
“I think that people are looking for something unique and different rather than the same generic crap and if they are treat with some intelligence as an audience and you offer them something different that is still well made there is a chance that it could take-off.”
Published in Narc Magazine