Saturday, February 15, 2014

Berlinale: Boyhood Review

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Running Time:163 Minutes
Release date: TBA

Although we have seen the release of many Richard Linklater films over the years (School of Rock, Before Sunset and Before Midnight among them), there is one that precedes them all.Winning both the Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas and Berliner Morgenpost Reader's Jury Award at this year's 64th Berlinale International Film Festival, he presents a twelve year long labour of love in Boyhood, a film not so much a coming of age film as a stumbling through; the study of a family through the eyes of a growing boy, Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). 
What makes this feature so unique is the way in which it was shot over a period of over a decade using one sole and static cast throughout, where other filmmakers engaged in this type of longitudinal storytelling would have employed the use of various distinct actors to plot the growth of their protagonists. Having chosen to make this film in a way few directors would have - 'a leap of faith on everyone's part' - it seems to be a risk that has paid off for Linklater and team. Immediately, it gains a vital degree of authenticity, accentuated by the decision to shoot on film in order to maintain the consistency of the picture, and to incorporate the mannerisms, ambitions and dialogue from actual experiences of the actors.
Whilst Boyhood is a portrayal of ordinary family life, it also digs a little deeper. It reinforces the inevitable fact that there are flaws in every family, and in this there is nothing extraordinary, however, it is in our individual experiences that we find some of the most gripping and affecting stories. Mostly, these conflicts take place behind closed doors but here we have front row seats. It's rare to be able to plot a life this way, in the moment and yet retrospectively, and it gives a fresh perspective to its audience. At the same time, it appreciates the fact that family life, not always a constant battle, is also made up of normal and habitual daily interactions.
Both of these aspects, the dramatic and the routine, intermittently take their turn throughout as the intense character observation shapes the narrative. Through the perspective of Mason Jr. we witness real and significant change over this fraction of a lifetime. His father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) initially acts like the absent wayward father who gets to blow in and out as he pleases, playing the fun dad while their mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) shoulders the less glamorous aspects of parenting. We are introduced to a 'parade' of violent, abusive, alcoholic surrogate fathers. They may be the ones who are permanent fixtures, but this in no way makes their presence positive or shapes a family. Mason Sr slowly comes in to the role of traditional dad (mini van and all) and in-between this he proves to be a truly genuine and stable source of comfort to his kids even if he is not always immediately present. It's a shame that the two ideals cannot align. Olivia, meanwhile, in the aftermath of her moments of maltreatment, always pushes to build herself back up again for herself and her children.
This provides the main drama of the feature. As for the everyday, we witness the simple fact of communication between child and parent, between siblings, discovering records, graduating high school, all plotted by what was contemporary culture at the time (see social media, presidential elections and popular music). Mason, a pretty level-headed kid, grows to be an inquisitive, artistic individual and he and older sister, Samantha (director's daughter, Lorelei Linklater) share the same relaxed attitude, a maturation from their petty childhood squabbles. Linklater was adamant that he 'didn't want to capture most of the things you see in other movies' i.e. rote milestones including first kisses, and it works in favour of the authenticity of Mason's story.

While it would be too far to compare the realism of the film to documentary form, it is true to say that it is not constrained by a fixed narrative structure typical of most fictional features. The development of Coltrane and Lorelei's characters, as the kids, is particularly interesting to watch seeing as this fictional aging took place alongside their own, one not too far from the other. If it gets a little overly philosophical as Mason pushes through teenage years, there is at least a sense of fumbling deliberateness that validates its presence, and the seemingly off-the-cuff humour lifts the dialogue from scene to scene. Boyhood concludes with talk of letting the moment seize you rather than the other way around and this sort of sums up the film itself - a whole twelve year long series of moments made for us to be moved by.
 By Angie Moneke

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