2 min

As time goes by

Is a sigh just a sigh?

FATAL DIAGNOSIS. Sarah Polley and Brendan Fletcher star as a couple destined for bitterness in Law Of Enclosures. Credit: Xtra files

John Greyson’s The Law Of Enclosures is an odd sort of film – at once pleasing and irritating, exciting and disappointing.

Ultimately, the film is a failure, but it’s well worth the work of figuring out why. One has the sense that this is the film that, some years hence, may very well be known as that one that came before Greyson’s masterpiece.

The story is well-crafted and quite charming: A married couple is seen at the beginning and the end of their 40-year marriage. When the romance begins, all is sweetness and light; by the time it ends, bitterness and hatred have taken their toll.

Initially, young Henry is expected to die from a brain tumour; when he survives a desperate operation, he and Beatrice marry and the slide toward his boozy mistreatment of her and their eventual estrangement. While building their retirement home in the country, they rediscover, for a last time, the love that started them on their journey.

As Henry and Beatrice, the young lovebirds, Sarah Polley and Brendan Fletcher (who, incidentally, sure likes to show off his bum) are appropriately awkward and lovable together; in contrast, performances by the exceptional Diane Ladd and Sean McCann as the older couple (now known as Hank and Bea) are rather more subdued, symbiotic and seething with viciousness.

The temporal structure of the film is what makes it interesting – and what tears it apart. Here’s the deal: Time is stuck, so Hank, Henry, Bea and Beatrice are all living during the Gulf War in 1991. The temporal paradox which this idea creates is fascinating, drastically different end points of the relationship exist side-by-side in the same moment (all true to the Dale Peck novel from which Greyson adapted the film).

It’s a rather dark, brooding view of life, too – one which suggests that we’re always wishing that things could be as they were before and that the problem with life is that, in the end, it all goes to hell.

The trouble is that exploring this kind of crazy, time shift stuff on screen requires a very subtle and controlled manner of direction which, as yet, seems to be just out of Greyson’s reach. The devices he chooses to convey the concurrent temporality of the two ends of four decades – televised reports on the war in the Gulf which both couples watch simultaneously; close-ups of clocks not moving forward – are overly literal and eventually are so intrusive as to be clumsy at best, laughable at worst.

Then there’s the free-floating image of a red deer prowling about which pops up now and then; one has to work far too hard to decide what it is meant to symbolize, especially when the best one can come up with is some kind of “unspecified life force.”

The Law Of Enclosures is not what one would call a bad movie by any means; it’s just kind of rough around the edges, so it comes across as either an unpolished attempt at an art-house piece, or a strong, emotional narrative with a bit of harmless pretentious wanking going on that’s best ignored.

Either way, it deserves to be seen, if only to see how close its director is to something pretty spectacular.

Law Of Enclosures opens Fri, Mar 23.