SXSW 2012: ‘Black Pond’ incredibly original and startlingly mature

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Black Pond

Directed by Tom Kingsley & Will Sharpe

Screenplay by Will Sharpe

UK, 2012

Black Pond heralds an incredibly original, startlingly mature, and completely inscrutable new film-making duo. It’s unclear what exactly they have made with Black Pond; suffice it to say it is equal parts profound and hilarious while refusing classification.

Part mockumentary, part family drama, but mostly outrageously surreal British comedy, Black Pond provides the smallest of foundations before ascending into oddball lunacy. The mockumentary aspects here act as a flash-forward in which it is revealed that the Thompson Family has been accused of murder after a stranger dies at their dinner table. From there, directors Kingsley and Sharpe present a richly detailed profile of an upperclass British family. The complexity, and care, of which suggest several more films worth of material buried in this restrained farce.

Tom (Chris Langham) and Sophie (Amanda Hadingue) Thompson are an empty nesting couple with a dog named Boy and no discernible affection for one another. Their children, Katie (Anna O’Grady) and Jess (Helen Cripps) live what appears to be some art school abstraction of a young adult life with their friend Tim (Will Sharpe). Tim in turn is in love with both of them and seeking council from the worst possible source, pop psychotherapist Eric Sacks (Simon Amstell). This is all relevant, and everyone is put into play when Tom and Sophie befriend an odd bearded man named Blake (Colin Hurley), who will later die at their dinner table.

The narrative of Black Pond is roughly linear, but given the untameable nature of the film, the timeline and setting are given to shifting abruptly and trusting you to do the rest. And if it takes a moment to get into the rhythm of the film, it is all the more thrilling once you’re there. Across the board performances are natural and uniquely hilarious, and the dynamic of the Thompson family is a thing of twisted beauty. Blake throws everyone into stark contrast, and, even given his bizarre social tics, ends up playing the straight man. He becomes a catalyst for Tom and Sophie’s confrontation with their unhappiness, and, despite their best efforts, visa-versa.

One of the best gags of the film is that everyone is artistically inclined. While it’s funny enough when people make bad art in weird ways, the real joy is that this inclination allows everyone to confidently philosophize to anyone that will listen. And Black Pond, underneath all of its playfulness,  is really obsessed with poetry and death. And it delivers what ends up being a portrait of a group of folks trying to come to terms with death through poetry.

– Emmet Duff

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