Category Archives: film review

Coomes in Bye Bye Blue: a Thoughtful Portrait of Mental Illness

Bye Bye Blue

Kasia Kowalczyk’s film Bye Bye Blue is receiving a great deal of buzz as it prepares to debut on the film festival circuit; actress Sarah Coomes is a major part of this. Sarah’s moving performance as Flora breaks down a number of walls around two subjects about which the public feels great unease; homelessness and mental illness. Though they’ve been displayed numerous times, the performance Coomes delivers in this particular production draws a very clear line that communicates her circumstances in a very relatable way. A great actor is not only someone who is believable in the role but who enables the audience to see something of themselves in the character; something Coomes resoundingly achieves in Bye Bye Blue.

Clever is a word which might imply someone with dual intent, perhaps even duplicitous. While Sarah’s presentation of Flora is most certainly clever, there is no ill intent or deception involved; at least not by design. The remarkability of both actress and film in Bye Bye Blue is that we not only discover more about this person whom we are quick to judge, but also come to understand our own inclinations of labeling others in difficult situations. Flora is a woman afflicted with a mental illness brought about by physical circumstances. Describing her iteration of the character, Sarah describes, “I didn’t want her to be presented as a ‘mad person’ or typical person that we’ve seen so often in film. I did a lot of research about people with mental illness and how their minds become fragmented. They become dissociated with reality and are forced to construct new ones. Honestly, it’s a way of investigating the amazing human mind and what it can do to protect itself. That’s vastly different than someone screaming and pulling their own hair out. I researched everything from schizophrenia to imaginary friends. There’s a huge spectrum out there.” As recipient of awards from the Jerwood Foundation, RC Sherriff Trust, and winner of the Westminster Prize Soho Theater, Coomes is known throughout the industry for her dedication to detail in constructing her characters.

This Kasia Kowalczyk directed film is the depiction of a young woman living on the streets who has collapsed outside her tent. While it is clear that she is suffering from some mental illness, hearing disembodied voices and only tolerating clothes which are blue, it’s evident how dire her situation is once she is taken to the hospital. While the doctors attempt to explain to Flora that her brain tumor is killing her and increasing her mental symptoms, she is unable to accurately process this. When Sarah (as Flora) flees the hospital in a panic, her desperation is palpable. It’s at this point when the film becomes surreal and points to Flora’s end. Her imaginary friend “Blue” leads her to the beach where they play. Flora is confronted with the notion that she must either say goodbye to Blue or die.

What both the filmmakers and the actress have done in Bye Bye Blue is to personalize, justify, and place a very real face on those who live on the streets. Coomes in particular manifests layer upon layer of a young woman dealing with the most sobering of circumstances while being void of a support system. Her personification of this character is deeply moving and altering. What could have been a gross over simplification bordering on a trope was instead crafted into a person of which many of us might state, “That could be me!” With so many films that cover the same events, it’s often the actors like Sarah Coomes who captivate us and make these films unique. Bye Bye Blue serves to erase any demarcation between “regular” members of society.

 

Film Review: “Dying to Live”

dying-to-live-cover
Poster for “Dying to Live”

 

Director Ilya Rozhkov astounds again with his latest brilliantly executed film, Dying to Live, which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival’s Court Metrage, as well as by the Manhattan Film Festival where it was nominated for Best Dramatic Short and the USA Film Festival Int’l Short Film Competition where it was the Runner Up for the Best Short Film Award.

The visceral story follows a young man, Jesse, on the day he learns of his terminal illness, and takes us on a journey that is somehow both deeply tragic, and, yet, joyously light.

The film opens at Jesse’s miserable workplace, a car lot, as he watches his co worker and love interest, Anne, proudly exit after she quits her job to travel to Paris. Played by the engagingly talented and strikingly beautiful Tammy-Anne Fortuin, Anne tries to convince Jesse to quit and come along. “We’re about to hit our 30s,” she argues. “If not now, when?” Bound by subtle and relatable hints of fear, Jesse obediently returns to work, only to lose consciousness in the breakroom shortly thereafter.

With exceptional attention to detail, the film takes us down the fluorescent hallways of the hospital and into a small office where Jesse is faced with his diagnosis for the first time. It is in this scene where any hope on Jesse’s face is shattered.  Actor Aleksander Ristic brings Jesse to life, really, during his confrontation with death, making the scene both too long, and not long enough.

Jesse is carted off to a shared room where he meets his roommate, George, played by actor John Colton (The Young and the Restless, Days of our Lives, Tosh.0)  An older man with a heart condition, George convinces an emotional and angry Jesse to live it up a little, and together, with the help of a bottle of booze hidden in a cut-out bible, they share moments of true happiness and an unlikely friendship on the roof of the hospital. This is where the cinematography of the film really shines, with everything in stillness, and faces hiding in just the right amount of shadow.

The next morning, when Jesse’s boss calls, he does what he’s always wanted to do: he quits over the phone. Jesse and George celebrate in a moment of real and genuine surprise and limitlessness when a nurse walks in, bringing the gravity of the situation back to earth. Rozhkov does an outstanding job bringing emotions up and down, without bruising the viewer. His sense of timing, and his ability to mix the perfect cocktail of comedy and depth, is simply not teachable.

Since Dying to Live is full of little twists and turns that bring what could be cliche into a category original and creative, we learn next that, during a medical scan, George has taken Jesse’s phone and text messaged Anne, saying he’d be over later that night. Unable to simply stroll out of the hospital on their own, George and Jesse make a casual exit dressed as doctors. They are chased out by an angry nurse when George clutches his chest and falls to the ground. Jesse speeds off to meet Anne in George’s old red Mustang, and as soon as the screeching tires are out of sight, George opens his eyes, smiles, and asks if Jesse got away.  George’s laughter takes the viewer through the credits.

The use of music throughout the film is chill-worthy, and producer Jainardhan Sathyan, along with Radhika Womack, do a noteworthy job ensuring the film stands as one cohesive project. Every setting is perfectly staged, every word is ideally written and delivered, and the overall concept is clear and powerful. The story, told with wit and grace, is an important one, and Sathyan makes sure it is told in the best way possible. The viewer is left with room to write the rest of the story, so to speak, all while feeling entirely satisfied with the story as told.

Such a topic of life and death can be hard to tackle, but Dying to Live is truly a gift to viewers in that every bit delivers compassion, depth, and humor with every scene, and leaves audiences feeling inspired.