The adaptation of a novel by Alexander Trocchi, a figure of the Beat generation, David Mac Kenzie’s Young Adam slowly sails on turbid water, carrying in its wake some characters stuck in lives with hopeless futures.
In 1950’s Scotland, Joe works on a barge owned by Les and Ella. The trio delivers coal bags along the channels between Glasgow and Edinburgh. One day, the two men fish out the corpse of a drowned woman. While Les waits impatiently to make headlines in the press, Joe launches into a secret affair with Ella.
If Trocchi’s novel provides the plot and themes of this story, Mac Kenzie’s direction focuses on composing a dirty atmosphere that reflects the lives of the characters. Like the coal that they transport, their existence seems to be covered with a layer of soot and bad luck on which the shadow of death planes. An impression brilliantly reinforced by the photography, which uses a pallet of colors going from the black of the night and coal to the blue of water. Even the credits announce the role of colors: a body floats with its messed up hair floating in the current and filtering the rays of light which pierce the surface of water.
Joe, the main character, appears as an anti-hero about whom nothing is known. Only the flashbacks give elements on his relationship to the corpse (Cathie), extremely useful to understand his reactions and expose his emotions vis-à-vis the events. All through the film, he carries demons that prevent him from any hope of redemption. To flee the feeling of guilt, when the police arrest an innocent man and to fill the emotional vacuum of his existence, this almost ghostly figure, a failed writer, throws himself into a sexual relation stripped of any passion. These erotic and macabre scenes, among the most successful here, testify to the existential stagnation of the characters.
Performances should be noted here, starting with Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton. They give a feeling of deep loneliness to their quasi-animal embraces. The glances are lost and the gestures deny any sensuality. A doomed resignation guides the progression of the characters, as slow as the barge and as monotonous as the channels’ currents. These beings without a future have already capitulated, at the point of sinking into mediocrity, even in their dreams of a better life: “We’ll settle in a bungalow in the suburbs of Edinburgh.” That’s how Ella considers her future with Joe, her new companion. The husband, evicted, withdraws himself without even fighting or expressing his anger.
Existential dryness and closed-in destinies are the main themes of David Mac Kenzie’s film. Music by David Byrne, cords and piano, rhythm the immobility of the film, bringing an additional note of nostalgia. A success.
– Moland Fengkov www.plume-noire.com
1.36GB | 1h 38mn | 720×416 | avi