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VIFF ’15: ‘O, Brazen Age’ – one of the best Canadian films of 2015

O, Brazen Age
Written and Directed by Alexander Carson
Canada, 2015

O, Brazen Age is one of those films that requires a secondary viewing. An intriguing blend of narrative, literature, self-reflection, and friendship, all bound together with a loose, silver cord of time, it’s an incredibly unique, personal debut feature from Alexander Carson.

The loose plot is stitched together around a group of artists, old friends who shift in and out of each other’s lives. Jealousy, depression, lust, ennui; each person struggles with their own tenuous grasp on life, and the film reveals the various hearts beating within the group in a nonlinear fashion, overlapping vignettes like Venn diagrams.  With five major sections, themselves reminiscent of poems torn apart and reassembled:

i. O Wonder

ii. And when the night darkens the streets

iii. Rather like a dream

iv. Take it to the limit

v. Forever strangers

The vignettes are not just shown to the audience, but are sometimes stories within the story, as characters trade anecdotes, fictionalized stories of their lives, poems, and memories. Rather than present a single narrative tying them all together, the film allows the strands to separate, as the focus falls on, by turn, a past lover, a poem, an art exhibit, breaking into the present and back into the past with relative ease. Two friends give a ride to a pregnant girl who claims there was no father; a man burns with jealousy at his wife’s ex-boyfriend, a Romantic shares his empty experiences of failed love, but is he “a man without love…or a man without a lover?”; another chronicles his life and those of others in photos, meant for an art installation never seen. Like any group of friends that have known each other for too long, it’s in a constant flux as emotions rise and fall, a constant state of dismantle/repair.

O brazen age_laundry

The dialogue and acting have an odd feeling, almost as if the actors are at times pretending to be nonactors, mirrored in dialogue like “I can’t face the world in character anymore.” We see them at their most vulnerable, and at both their genuine selves and when they’re distorted in manipulation. What are they searching for in their lives? Where are they hoping to find meaning; love, God, money, vocation? Fractured faith suspended like gossamer threads through the words and minds of these friends, shining through on lines like “snow on her head like a broken Eucharist” and ” faith itself is something that can exist, be seen, and shared visually.” This is in many ways a generational cry into the wilderness. Except instead of limiting itself to one generation, it crawls and cuts across them, both visually and audibly. Scenes suddenly jump between crisp digital aesthetic (shot with a RED camera) to hazy, days-past in Super 16mm, or from standard shot reverse shot into a montage of diegetic photographs, winding up and slowing down time as needed (“Time…you remember time?”) Bits and snippets of poetry, literature, and Shakespeare are quoted in passing, without reference points, until the lines are blurred and it’s unsure which is original and which is quoted. A subtle score by Menalon undergirds the whole, often settling into a soft jazz to match the atmosphere on the screen.

O Brazen Age_Dentist

Brimming with voice overs, sometimes a sign announcing the death knell for a film unsure of itself visually,  O, Brazen Age manages to heavily rely on its literary components while retaining a unique cinematic voice and attention to form. Rather than running parallel to each other, the literary and cinematic are entwined, feeding off of each other.  Handfuls of emotionally devastating montages, replete with a soundtrack from Destroyer, connect new themes and ties between people in gorgeous cinematography and photographs.

O, Brazen Age is an intensely personal film; it feels like it belongs to Alexander Carson and his friends’ lives. Imbuing the mundane with a certain sense of magic, reaching out for meaning as if in a submerged life, gasping for air. At times pushing towards abstraction, but stepping back at the last minute, it’s a film which addresses the universal through specifics, using Carson’s personal touch as a conduit for its audience to enter. A contemplative joy-ride collage of cinema and literature, O, Brazen Age is one of the best Canadian films at VIFF.

The Vancouver International Film Festival takes place from September 24 – October 9, 2015. Visit the official website for more information.

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