Aheady brew of Celtic mysticism, cinematic tone poem and rites-of-passage movie, the Welsh-lingo “The Making of Maps” is a return for helmer Endaf Emlyn to the painterly style of his “One Full Moon” ratherthan the sparky comedy of hismore recent fest hit, “Leaving Lenin.” Though it plays easily on the bigscreen, pic looks likely tochart only a modest course on the subtitled circuit, limited by an oblique narrative style that won’t be to everyone’s taste and a script that’s weakened by lack of focus. Fests and small-screen buyers should check it out.
The time is the early ’60s, somewhere on the windswept coast of Wales, where the only concern of 13-year-old Griff (Gavin Ashcroft) is his growing collection of maps, each painstakingly drawn in secret and charting the myths, characters and topography of the area, filtered through his impressionable mind.
Griff’s mom (Catherine Tregenna) is the former owner of a dance academy who’s gone off the rails since her beautiful star pupil, Alis (Lara Ward), mysteriously disappeared. His dad (Maldwyn Pate) philanders on the side, and his sister, Ruth(Abigail Creel), hovers in the background. A loner whose only confidante is his mother, Griff records observations in his maps where other kids would keep diaries.
Main thrust is the question of Alis’ fate, which hangs over the family like a black cloud. On the way to finding out what happened to her, Griff pals up with local Polish tramp Josef (Wyn Bowen Harries), who may know the truth, and joins his sister in a coverup when a mutual friend, Helen (Catrin Powell), is accidentally killed.
It’s Griff’s maps, however, that set in motion the final tragic events when his sister discovers them and the details therein of their father’s sexual assignations. The revelation concerning Alis neatly closes the family circle.
Beneath its small-scale, period setting, this is operatic stuff, and requires a sustained leap of the imagination from the viewer. Emlyn signals the way from the very beginning, with a lyrical, highly metaphysical style in which music plays a vital part. Mark Thomas’ delicately orchestrated, coloristic score is aces both in the many wordless fantasy sequences and in more intimate moments, and fits well with Nina Kellgren’s photography, which makes much play with mirrors and reflected light.
Beneath all the Celtic mysticism, there are strong sexual currents involving the attractive Helen, themysterious Josef and Griff’s mother which form a patchwork tapestry of the young boy’s adolescent confusion. Sexual strand takes over at story’s end to provide the scary, almost Gothic close.
Despite all these elements, however, pic doesn’t quite go the distance: After a while, the frequent fantasy sequences become repetitive, and the Alis subplot acquires a so-what feel. Emlyn’s script juggles so many dramatic balls that a couple (including the father’s story) slip through his fingers in the rapid final stages. A tighter dramatic focus would have paid greater emotional dividends.
Playing is fine within the self-contained world of Emlyn’s creation, with Ashcroft a convincingly fresh-faced early ’60s youth. As the mother, Tregenna comes over as either ethereal or theatrical, depending on one’s tolerance of the pic’s style. Tech credits are all rosy.