All of Us Strangers (R16, 105 mins) Directed by Andrew Haigh *****
I haven’t seen every film Andrew Haigh has made, but I’ve seen enough to know he is an astonishing film- maker.
Haigh’s early short films are apparently wonderful, and his debut feature – Greek Pete – picked up awards and won him many friends.
Haigh’s breakthrough was a film called Weekend, which reached us in the Pacific in 2012.
Weekend was a love story, taking place across a couple of days in the lives of two young men. They meet on a Friday night, wake up together on the Saturday morning, and then unexpectedly realise that their pills ‘n’ pilsner-fuelled brief encounter might actually be the start of a relationship that could last – and see them into an uncertain future.
Weekend was a funny, angry, bittersweet and adorable film, sketched in deft strokes by a couple of hugely talented actors.
I really didn’t want the film to end, but I guess that was kind of the point. The two men – played by Tom Cullen and Chris New – didn’t want their time together to be over either. So when they were forced to part – is there anywhere more desolate than a railway platform on a cold Sunday afternoon? – it was as though the audience were complicit in their sadness and in their renewed appreciation of their lives – that something as unexpected and excellent as new love could still suddenly appear.
Haigh followed Weekend with 45 Years, with which he attracted a couple of genuine stars in Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, as a couple approaching an anniversary. 45 Years is also a romance, but not always the one it appeared to be, as husband Geoff’s mind begins to fail, and the memories he has kept buried for decades begin to overwhelm his life in the present.
Haigh cemented his success with the film Lean On Pete – which I somehow haven’t seen, and the series The North Water, which is blisteringly excellent and which TVNZ+ can show you anytime you like.
Clearly, I’m a fan. But I deliberately went into a preview screening of All Of Us Strangers knowing almost nothing about it – and I am very glad I did.
At first, happily, the film finds Haigh replaying some of the beats of Weekend. Harry and Adam live on separate floors in an otherwise empty apartment block in a leafy fringe of London. The block is unfinished, and the rest of the tenants will move in at some point. But for now, the two men have the place to themselves.
Harry drunkenly propositions Adam one night, and is rebuffed. A few nights later, Adam decides to take Harry up on his slurred promises – and a sweet and tentative relationship seems to be underway.
But, Adam has his secrets. Not least of which is that he regularly travels to his old childhood home to talk to his parents – who died in a car crash when Adam was a child. Or, perhaps, Adam only dreams he does this.
As Harry and Adam, Haigh has Paul Mescal (Normal People) and Andrew Scott (Fleabag) to work with – and it is impossible to imagine two actors who could be better in the roles. The only other two speaking parts are Adam’s parents, played by Jamie Bell and Claire Foy. And, ditto.
All Of Us Strangers is an hypnotic, disorientating film. Working from a novel by Japanese author Taichi Yamada, Haigh has constructed a mystery that leans into the conventions of a horror story, but which remains hopeful and poignant until the credits roll.
Without deploying anything as flabby and solipsistic as “nostalgia”, Haigh still interrogates our ideas of memory, childhood – and the way in which we only achieve adulthood when we learn to allow our present to reframe and make sense of our past.
I was reminded of Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun – which also starred Mescal, and also Ian McEwan’s novel The Child In Time. All Of Us Strangers shares that book’s ability to make the otherworldly and fantastical seem as accessible as your morning commute.
All of Us Strangers is an idiosyncratic and deeply personal film. It will be polarising as hell and will quite likely be actively disliked by a fair percentage of the people who stump up to see it. I doubt if Haigh, Scott, Mescal and their crew would have it any other way. Bravo.
All of Us Strangers opens in select cinemas on January 18.