EIFF 2015 Review – Bereave (2015)

Bereave Film

The strangest film of 2015 has arrived and it’s the stagey future camp classic, Bereave, starring Malcolm McDowell, Keith Carradine and Jane Seymour. Written and directed by Evangelos and George Giovanis, it’s near shambolic in execution but nonetheless a fascinating watch that comes off like the lovechild of Tommy Wiseau and David Lynch. It’s wonderfully entertaining.

Garvey (McDowell) is fatally ill, on the verge of suicide, and shutting-out his wife, Evelyn (Seymour). On their wedding anniversary Garvey goes-off alone leaving the increasingly drained and frustrated Evelyn to turn to sleeping pills – which have an adverse effect on her already fragile mental state.

“You almost look beautiful,” Garvey tells Evelyn in the opening scene where it is revealed that Garvey’s (supposedly) previously charming character has turned vitriolic. His wife is both witness and victim to his strange behaviour, truly confused by his actions (like calling people up from his address book and asking them strange questions). There is a real sense of confusion in the Giovanis narrative, as we’re never quite sure what has gotten under Garvey’s skin. Evelyn’s attempts at kindness towards him are rebuffed, pushing her into a nervous breakdown – cue the anniversary cake being flung against the counter in a height of camp melodrama.

Shot with an almost clinical aesthetic, Garvey and Evelyn’s stylish and simplistically white flat has a claustrophobic edge – fitting for these tense bouts of marital feuding. Outside these scenes of the estranged couple, a visit from Garvey’s gangster-like brother (Carradine) creates an obscure subplot which sees him visit their derelict old home and shave his hair – for no evident reason – Carradine is fun in these scenes, so they are quite welcome despite their oddness. Hopping to another subplot with little attempts at cohesion or transition, we see Garvey flirt with a young woman in the park (this is after he tries to pay children to hit him) which leads to some spots of hilarious dialogue – my favourite being “You know, I’m just an unemployed violinist,” said in deadpan by the young blonde actress.

Whilst Garvey is schmoozing (and apparently now the most charming man on the planet), Evelyn is indulging in some high camp moments of bliss/terror as part of her sleeping pill high – fencing with an innocent vase of flowers, sticking on her old wedding dress, and going for walks in the most dangerous parts of the city. But what’s that? Is that another subplot in the distance? Yes, Bereave turns home invasion thriller as the sleepwalking Evelyn is targeted by two hoodlums looking to fleece her. Once again, there is little cohesion in this clunky narrative with jarring tonal changes and new narrative strands coming from all directions.

Bereave also includes narratives centred on Evelyn and Garvey’s grown-up children, Steve (Mike Doyle) and Penelope (Hocus Pocus’s Vinessa Shaw). There are strange subplot involving Steve’s relationship with an amorous lady friend and Penelope being attacked by her karate-chopping daughter who is hunting the tooth fairy – because there wasn’t already enough confusion engrained in Bereave.

Far from their finest moments, there is something entirely watchable about Seymour, Carradine and McDowell’s performances here. Their commitment to this bizarreness is truly admirable.

The Edinburgh press screening prompted a dozen or so walk outs, but I for one was strangely engrossed and entertained by this uneven patchwork.

Andrew McArthur

Edinburgh Film Festival 2015 | dir.Evangelos Giovanis, George Giovanis, USA, 2015 | Screened: 25th June 2015 | Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Jane Seymour, Keith Carradine, Vinessa Shaw, Mike Doyle

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