Philosophical thriller Helen at Turin FF

Article published on Nov. 27, 2008
Article published on Nov. 27, 2008
Eighteen-year-old Joy leaves school, says goodbye to her friends and walks into a park. All of this takes place in a single long shot during the opening credits of Helen, the debut film by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, in competition at the Turin Film Festival. In the woods, Joy’s jacket is found, but no trace of the girl.
In order to reconstruct her last movements, the police choose as a “stand-in” Helen (newcomer Annie Townsend), who bears a striking resemblance to the missing girl. Raised in an orphanage, in search of an identity – “My only desire is to be somewhere else,” she tells a professor when asked about her dreams for the futures – Helen enters Joy’s life, taking her same classes, going to dinner with her parents and even going out with Joy’s boyfriend.

Hollywood would have perhaps made the story into a thriller. Instead, the directors “were inspired more by Dreyer’s Ordet,” said Lawlor, “by his original use of the camera,” with numerous long shots “that help audiences reflect deeply, without being distracted by continuous editing cuts”.

Thus, the film shares next to nothing with detective stories. “The way we represented the police is anything but realistic. We didn’t aim for social realism but a more philosophical approach,” he added. The filmmakers are less interested in solving the case than in the psychological investigation of the main character and the hypnotic rhythm of the images (photographed by Ole Birkeland and edited by Molloy).

The final instalment of the project “Civic Life” begun five years ago – “Nine shorts and this feature film, which form a single work, developed in close contact with some of the local communities and strong social ties to the territory,” said Lawlor – Helen is a UK/Ireland co-production led by Desperate Optimist Production.

Gabriele Barcaro