Cineworld Glasgow, 25.03.11

On the walls of teenager Oliver Tate’s (Craig Roberts) bedroom in his family home in 1980’s Swansea are numerous film posters and drawings.  Alongside a portrait of Woody Allen are posters for the French nouvelle vague film Ma Nuit Chez Maud (Eric Rohmer, 1969) and Jean-Peirre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967).  The iconic image of Alain Delon in the latter film re-occurs at Oliver’s lowest point when he has lost the affections (such as they are) of his girlfriend Jordana (Yasmin Paige), and has witnessed his Mother (Sally Hawkins) carrying on with the neighbour, Graham (Paddy Considine) behind his Father’s back.  The link to the loner character Delon portrayed and Oliver’s resolution to solve his own, and his parents, troubles alone are an obvious link, and the allusion to Melville, both championed and later criticised by the writers of Cahiers Du Cinema, is only one indicator of the influence of the French New Wave on director Richard Ayoade’s debut feature.

Throughout the film the style of the nouvelle vague is replicated, undercut, satirised and celebrated, from the extensive use of jump cuts, camera zooms, freeze frames, de-focusing and handheld camera work, various film stock and Oliver’s narration, to the effective sound editing and highlighting of non-diagetic  sounds and music.  Scenes of Oliver and Jordana running through Swansea’s rundown industrial wastelands, lighting sparklers and fires in rubbish tips, shot on Super-8, feel similar in tone and style to the iconic moments from the likes of Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962, such as the characters racing across a bridge) or Godard’s Bande à part (1964, the run through the Louvre scene) or À bout de souffle (1960, Godard).  Much of the humour comes from the fact that these scenes, mediated through the mind of the self-deluded Oliver, established as a fan of these films and who wishes a film crew were capturing his life, are set in industrial Swansea, not the cosmopolitan, chic Paris.  And the protagonists are troubled teenagers dealing with adolescence, not the cool hipsters of the ChampsÉlysées.

The other background that Ayoade draws from is the British tradition of comedy (he stars in the Channel 4 sit-com The I.T. Crowd).  Apart from the extrovert Graham, (which Considine has a ball playing) a self-help guru who can see people’s auras in colours, the rest of the cast underplay beautifully (reminiscent again of Delon’s minimalist acting style), and draw laughs from their emotionally stunted lives and inability to deal with their feelings.   Sally Hawkins is exquisite as Oliver’s Mother, seeking a release from the emotionless marriage to Lloyd (Noah Taylor).  The young lead characters give muted, nuanced performances, drawing laughter from the tiniest hint of facial movement, and effectively using stillness and silence to highlight the awkwardness they share as they come of age. 

Set in the mid-‘8o’s, Ayoade gets to have fun with the technology of the time. Lloyd, unable to discuss feelings with his son, gives Oliver fatherly advice via a mix tape cassette that he gives to Oliver on learning he has a girlfriend (‘with sadder songs towards the end for the inevitable break up’), to the tacky garish VHS effects used on Graham’s self-help video.  It all seems to represent a more innocent, charming time, before the internet, Facebook and Twitter forever changed the experience of childhood forever.

The film’s title relates to the imagery of water throughout the film, and the central location of the beach and sea in the relationship of Oliver and Jordana, but also to the fact that Lloyd is employed as a marine biologist, and as such the ‘sub-marine’ of the title is Oliver himself, and his relationship to Lloyd.  the central fact that Lloyd imparts to his son – that the ocean is 6 miles deep – is the fact that Oliver finds it is appropriate to repeat as he tries to win back Jordana’s affection.  Marine biology is a safety net that Lloyd has retreated to during depression, and it is this comfort zone in which he is able to communicate with his son.  The hope at the end of the film is that Oliver and Jordana will be able to communicate more openly about true feelings, as they come of age and emerge from their parents shadows.

Funny and smart, Submarine feels fresh and current while simultaneously incorporating elements of the ‘6o’s and ’80’s.  It thoroughly entertains and delivers laughs both subtlety and loudly.  A definite must see.

Film Rating: 4 out of 5.

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