Just over a week ago I was marvelling at the BAFTA nominations for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, and it slightly pained me that I hadn’t even heard of one of the five nominees. All I knew about Black Pond was the brief summary I wrote up when it had a small release back in February. What kind of film blogger am I?! Filled with existential crisis I was pleased to discover that my local independent cinema, The Tricycle, was having a screening of Black Pond with a Q&A afterwards, a screening which I dutifully attended…
Black Pond is the story of a dysfunctional family; one which is accused of murder after a man comes round for dinner and dies at their table. The film’s conclusion, the death of the man who came to dinner, is made clear at the start and the remainder of the film is split into three separate threads. One thread deals with the events that lead up to his death, a second consists of interviews with the family years later and the third is made up of therapy sessions between another guest at that dinner, Tim Tanaka (as played by co-writer/director Will Sharpe), and psychotherapist Dr Eric Sacks (Simon Amstell in his film debut). The three threads tie together well, each offering a different perspective on the story and each with their only particular style.
By letting the audience in on what could have been a shock ending, writer/director duo Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley have taken the emphasis away from the surreal plot, and shifted it towards the bizarre collection of characters. This is a situation I always prefer, but one which makes discussing the film a little trickier. Each member of the family, and their guests, come across as wonderfully flawed individuals. There are no weak links in the cast and this is a true ensemble piece. If anyone were to steal the limelight is would be the father Tom (Chris Langham making a long-awaited return to acting), a man who seems to be wading through life; trying to stop his wife eating bananas too late in the day, singing to himself while on the toilet and happy to bring back men from the park for a cup of tea, which is how the whole business got started.
Shot for a mere £25,000*, Black Pond is a testament to independent filmmaking and simply getting your film made whether you have the support of a funding body or not, sorry BFI. While other low-budget films may struggle to hide the tell-tale signs in their aesthetic, Black Pond looks as good as a production with significantly more money behind it. It was not a case of simply getting the film shot, care had clearly been taken in its composition as the stills above will testify.
Enough rambling about character and direction, what really matters is if the film was enjoyable and made some kind of emotion happen deep within me. Thankfully Black Pond more than fulfilled these needs. Throughout the film I was laughing loudly and, unlike during some comedies, it felt like the entire audience was joining in. The source of humour ranged from the surreal nature of what was happening on-screen to the mundane conversations between family members. The jokes were for the most part quite subtle, Amstell’s psychotherapist providing the broader humour, but were always effective whether they were an expression on Langham’s face or Amstell hitting his glass with a pen.
All things considered Black Pond is an impressive feature debut and a great film in its own right. Equally moving, funny, and deeply surreal, Black Pond is almost poetic without ever alienating its audience. I haven’t laughed so much in the cinema for a long time and once again I find myself excited about the future of British cinema. In honour of Black Pond‘s spirit and achievement I am finally introducing a star rating to Mild Concern, and giving this fantastic debut our top honour. 5 Stars = Absolute Amazement.
Black Pond is currently touring the UK with Chris Langham in tow and is worth the effort if it passes near you (tour dates can be found here). If you miss there will hopefully be a DVD release soon which we will bore you about nearer the time. For now enjoy the trailer:
*Avatar cost 9480 times as much to make and is a terrible film. Go figure.