×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Kiss of Life

A potentially melodramatic tale about a just-deceased woman's effort to resolve her untidy life is treated in understated, schematic fashion in "Kiss of Life." This first feature from British writer-director Emily Young is emotionally nuanced and technically accomplished, but feels more like an academic exercise than a full-bodied movie.

With:
Helen - Ingeborga Dapkunaite John - Peter Mullan Pap - David Warner Kate - Millie Findlay Telly - James E. Martin

A potentially melodramatic tale about a just-deceased woman’s effort to resolve her untidy life is treated in understated, schematic fashion in “Kiss of Life.” This first feature from British writer-director and Lodz Film School grad Emily Young, whose shorts “Second Hand” and “The Tower of Babel” made a mark on the fest circuit, is emotionally nuanced and technically accomplished, but feels more like an academic exercise than a full-bodied movie; effect is akin to an M. Night Shyamalan picture without the commercial instincts. Elaborately worked out in terms of structure and editing, pic keeps spinning the same wheels to the extent that, once it’s into its final half-hour, the impression grows of a good short extended beyond its warranted length. Fests and tony tube venues may embrace this tasteful, subdued effort, which lacks the verve, as well as selling points, for theatrical success.

“Kiss of Life” is dedicated to Katrin Cartlidge, the vital actress who died just as she was set to start work on the picture. Her replacement in the leading role, Lithuanian thesp Ingeborga Dapkunaite, best known for her work in “Burnt by the Sun,” plays Helen, a London housewife barely coping with her two kids and doddering dad while husband John (Peter Mullan) is away on a long aid mission in an unnamed Eastern European country.

Sensing a new urgency in his wife’s pleas that he return, John begins a perilous journey home while Helen goes about her daily routine. But it’s Helen whose number is up this day, as she’s killed by a hit-and-run driver in full view of her boy after dropping him at school.

So as John, unaware of his wife’s fate, negotiates his way by car, truck, horse-drawn wagon and foot across a brutal landscape of thuggish soldiers and displaced villagers, Helen is seen arising from the pavement, walking away as if the accident had never happened and returning home, where her spirit-self replays, re-imagines and reassesses her domestic life in a way that will allow her to take leave of this world with serenity, rather than with her family members at loose ends.

Which is exactly where they are in reality. With their father gone indefinitely, as far as they know, the bereft children — early teen Kate (Millie Findlay) and younger Telly (James E. Martin) — are forced to depend upon granddad (David Warner), who proves useless, but does produce some old 8mm footage he took that reveals the family in happier times.

Intricate editing strategies connect “actual” domestic events with Helen’s wish-fulfilling adjustments of reality and John’s journey, all of which feature abrupt spasms of drama but are mostly dominated by observational moments that suggest rather than spell out their import. Young cuts away from all the “big” moments that would normally trigger major outbursts, such as the doctor delivering the bad news to the kids about their mother, while favoring quiet revelations of emotion, such as having the painfully withdrawn Telly calling for his absent mommy and daddy during the night.

In Mullan’s subtle reading of the do-gooding husband, thesp subtly suggests that John’s long sojourn abroad is to an extent a question of a need to escape his family; one of the film’s best scenes has him hitting it off with a girl at a roadside cafe during a delay at a checkpoint, only to be suddenly paged to depart just as a quick fling looks to be in the cards.

Although she has an agreeable screen presence, Dapkunaite doesn’t appear as beaten down by life as the material suggests Helen might be; she lacks evidence of an inner wound, as well as a gravity that might have made the role more moving. And the actress has a tendency to smile too much, as if she wants to be liked above all.

Ending has a muted effectiveness, but pic’s repetitive techniques, somber blue/green/gray hues and unvarying hushed tone has worn thin before it arrives. Strings-dominated score by Murray Gold sets a mournful mood, reinforced by the delicately expressive tech work.

Kiss of Life

Un Certain Regard / U.K.-France

Production: A Film Council and BBC Films presentation with the participation of France 3 Cinema, Gimages Films and Sofica Gimages 6 of a Baker Street Media Finance Take Five production in co-production with Wild Horses Films and Haut et Court in association with Autonomous. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Gayle Griffiths. Executive producers, Cat Villiers, Chiara Menage, Paul Trijbits, David M. Thompson, Bill Allan. Co-producers, Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta, Simon Arnal-Szlovak. Directed, written by Emily Young.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Wojciech Szepel; editor, David Charap; music, Murray Gold; production designer, Jane Morton; costumes, Julian Day; sound (Dolby Digital), Ronald Bailey; line producer (Croatia), Igor A. Nola; associate producer, Christopher Collins; casting, Gary Davy. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 21, 2003. Running time: 86 MIN.

With: Helen - Ingeborga Dapkunaite John - Peter Mullan Pap - David Warner Kate - Millie Findlay Telly - James E. Martin

More Film

  • The Mule trailer

    Film Review: Clint Eastwood in 'The Mule'

    From Dirty Harry to … dirty grandpa, Clint Eastwood certainly has a type of character that he’s comfortable playing, and “The Mule” finds him squarely in his comfort zone, appearing as a surly old horticulturalist who, at age 90, has become perhaps the most reliable drug runner for the Sinaloa cartel, evading detection for nearly [...]

  • Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, ‘The Realm,’

    ‘The Realm,’ ‘Champions,’ Cruz and Bardem Among Spanish Academy Goya Nominations

    MADRID — Spain’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today the nominees for the 33rdedition of the Goya Awards, to be held at the Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones in Sevilla on Feb. 2, 2019. Leading the pack with 13 nominations is Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s ultra-current political thriller “The Realm,” which impressed in San [...]

  • Sony Pictures to release Pedro Almodovar’s

    Sony Pictures to Release Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Pain & Glory' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a break from his Spanish distributor of past years, Warner Bros., Pedro Almodovar has opted to release his latest film “Pain & Glory” in Spain via Sony Pictures Releasing International on March 22, 2019. “We are delighted and excited that we are releasing “Pain & Glory” in Spain with a whole new team: Sony Pictures in [...]

  • Megan Mullally SAG Awards

    Megan Mullally to Host 2019 SAG Awards

    “Will & Grace” actress Megan Mullally has been selected as the host the 25th edition of the SAG Awards on Jan. 27 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Kristen Bell performed the emcee duties this year as the first-ever host of the ceremonies. More Reviews Film Review: Clint Eastwood in 'The Mule' Film Review: [...]

  • Aaron Sorkin

    Aaron Sorkin's 'Trial of the Chicago 7' Put on Hold (EXCLUSIVE)

    After getting close to pushing the long-in-development project into production, Amblin Entertainment is shutting down pre-production on Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” sources tell Variety. Sources say Sorkin is focusing on his play “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which opens Thursday, while the studio figures out how to move forward on the film. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content