“Before Sunrise” goes Down Under in the modest yet affecting “Ellipsis,” during which two strangers discover the wonders of nocturnal Sydney and a little bit about each other. This improvised, quickly shot drama reps the feature film debut of David Wenham, working with executive producer Robert Connolly, who gave the actor his first short directing assignment in 2013’s Tim Winton’s “The Turning.” Their reputations — Wenham was featured in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and “300” — should get the film onto the festival circuit, though theatrical will likely prove elusive.
While crossing an intersection with their heads buried in their mobile phone screens in Sydney’s bustling Central Business District, Jasper (Benedict Samuel) literally careens into Viv (Emily Barclay). Her phone shatters and he offers to pay for the damage, though the shopkeeper they find can’t promise a fix until eight the next morning.
Cut to some time together between these likable strangers. Turns out Viv’s on her way out of the country to join the man to whom she’s engaged, which underscores the fleeting nature of their encounter. And Jasper? He seems to be just a nice guy, inherently trustworthy and up for an adventure on a warm December night.
The wanderings lead to encounters with a parade of affable and multicultural eccentrics (Sydney has lots of those), perhaps the most memorable of whom are a mismatched but oddly appropriate pair of sex shop workers (Rome Duncan and Paul Anderson) in a 24-hour Kings Cross establishment. “I’m just a frontline humble porn peddler love preacher in a crazy, twisted world,” proclaims one, and this is as good a motto for the easygoing Australian culture as any.
Setting out with relatively modest expectations, Wenham conceived “Ellipsis” as an experiment in collaborative performance, workshopping it with his leads in three days and shooting in just seven in and around his own downtown neighborhood.
Key to getting on the film’s wavelength is the definition of the title; the contextual clues among these strangers and their passers-by speak as eloquently as their words. Within those modest parameters, the film does just fine, redeemed by the palpable chemistry between Barclay and Samuel (a “Walking Dead” vet who plays the Mad Hatter on Fox’s “Gotham”). The balance of cast is pungent in support, though a tacked-on subplot involving the strained home life of the phone repairman doesn’t pay off.
Simon Morris’ intuitive camera observes but never intrudes, and Megan Washington’s laid-back jazz score summons the feel of Rolf Kente’s work on Alexander Payne’s “Sideways.”