Joshua Reviews Carol Morley’s Dreams Of A Life [SXSW 2012 Review]

Last year saw the release of one of the most original documentary films that the film world has seen in years.   Entitled The Arbor, the film took an experimental look into the life of a famous public figure and her rise and sad fall.   However, while the subject matter was inherently interesting, it was the blend of voice over interviews and performance pieces that made THE ARBOR such an instant gem.   And not to be left out, this year’s SXSW Film Festival has seen the debut of its own experimental little documentary, that takes an intimate look into the life of a less well known name, but one that doesn’t have any less of an impact.

Entitled Dreams Of A Life, the film comes from writer/director Carol Morley, and follows the tragic story of Joyce Vincent.   A seemingly normal, beautiful and magnetic young woman in North London, Joyce was discovered dead in her bedsit, three years after she had actually passed away.   With the utilities still on in her flat, the circumstances surrounding her death bewilder those close to her, and the fact that not even a photograph could be found of her in a newspaper makes the story all the more bizarre.   But all the more perfect when you blend this surreal narrative with the surreal directing style of one Carol Morley.

Structurally, the film is a relative oddity.   Featuring a combination of performance sequences and talking head interviews, the film blends the two worlds to make a film that is rather tough to describe. The story itself is enthralling.   One day, a beautiful young woman is found dead in her flat, with little to no hint as to why.   Loving friends, fully lived life, all the potential in the world.   Just snuffed out for absolutely no noticeable cause. The narrative weaved here, featuring a cavalcade of interviews with friends, lovers and family members, is not only wonderfully shot but gives a great look into this one woman’s life, while also proving that there may not be anything physically left on this Earth after one is gone, but in the eyes of loved ones, there is truly an eternal life, to some extent.

Visually, the film is gorgeous.   Funded by the Irish Film Board, the movie is a standard documentary in many instances, particularly during the interview sequences. However, when the film changes into something more performance based, the film shifts not only its tone, but style. Featuring luscious cinematography and a emotive camera, the film uses a great soundtrack and one hell of a sense of style to add a great layer of depth to this moving look into the human experience, and the repercussions felt by those involved in a person’s life after he or she moves on from this world.

Overall, the film isn’t without flaw.   The film’s stakes are far from high, so despite the inherent intrigue, there isn’t a whole lot to hold the attention of the viewer narratively.   Dreams thrives when the interviewees seem to contradict one another (she could sing, one says, where another says she wasn’t talented), proving that we choose how we truly remember those we love after they are gone.   However, with a great sense of aesthetic and an even better score and soundtrack, this is a welcome breath of fresh air in the otherwise crowded world that is documentary film.

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