H. written and directed by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia, was probably the most elusive film at Sundance 2015. A bizarre and entirely dream-like representation of a town gripped by otherworldly surrealism, H. never wanders outside its frame, keeping the logistics of its concepts consistent, and never firing ideas off that are too odd or so strange they irritate with a kind of free-falling nonchalance. This isn’t the work of amateur art-house directors, it’s a tightly considered study in absolute alienation from reality, where subconscious woes become realities against the back drop of a meteor shower.
H. explores the lives of two women named Helen, the older of the two (Robin Bartlett) lives with her curmudgeon husband and finds solace in caring for a “reborn” baby doll, whilst the younger (Rebecca Dyan) is a prolific artist working with her husband, expecting her first child, and coping with his infidelities. After a meteor shower, the people of the town of Troy, New York experience strange happenings, a portion of the populace wanders off into the woods, men seem affected by a strange whining noise, water flows upwards from taps, and glasses explode in their cabinets.
If the great performances weren’t enough, which they are, then Attieh and Garcia’s particular collection of illusory images are a splendour. A black horse haunts the streets and surrounding woodland of Troy, gravity fails, a stone sculpture of a woman’s head appears floating in a lake, and the laws of time seem to stutter, looping moments with haunting familiarity. All this seems oddly in tune with an old woman’s affections for a plastic doll and a young man’s nonchalant infidelity.
H. can be deeply unsettling thanks to its schizophrenic brand of vague surrealism. Pair that with the stellar scoring (a masterclass from Kazu Makino and Alex Weston) and remarkable sound design from Javier Farina and you’ve got a distinct world of sound all by itself. Attieh and Garcia are accomplished editors in their own right, subtly winding their courageous visuals with the alien scoring until the very fabric of the film itself threaten to unravel with a vaguely postmodern glee.
A parable on consciousness in the contemporary world, reworking elements of classic Greek literature under the umbrella of a surrealist melodrama. It’s a beautiful haunting piece of film that champions its art-house roots without diving nose first into pretentious idealism. Rather than dismissing it as a work of anti-narrative, embrace this masterpiece, even ask why if you like, but don’t worry about answers. H. is a film that sometimes denies understanding but that doesn’t detract from its tender portrayal of life in a confusing world.
A gorgeous experience, elusive, evocative, and effecting in a way I still haven’t got my head around. Fantastically scored and with a beautiful turn from Robin Bartlett and a vulnerable one from Rebecca Dayan. Stunning filmmaking.
Dir. Rania Attieh, Daniel Garcia
Stars. Robin Bartlett, Rebecca Dayan, Will Janowitz, Julian Gamble