Cinema Without Borders: All of Us Strangers — Lonely hearts

In this weekly column, the writer explores the non-Indian films that are making the right noises across the globe. This week, we talk about Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers
Cinema Without Borders: All of Us Strangers — Lonely hearts

There is a line in Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers: “Writers know less about the real world than anyone else”. However, it doesn’t appear to hold true for the film’s writer-director himself. Haigh’s adaptation of Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel Strangers might be suffused with a pensive, trance-like mood but it is one of the most substantive and tangible explorations of loss and grief seen on screen.

In a teeming London, writer Adam (Andrew Scott) lives in splendid isolation in an almost unoccupied skyscraper, where it’s “so quiet that you can’t think”. One fine day, an unexpected knock on the door brings a stranger home. Harry (Paul Mescal) who stays on the sixth floor, wanders into Adam’s life and as they begin to gradually settle down in a relationship, we find Adam travelling incessantly to his childhood home in the suburbs which houses painful memories and unresolved anguish of the past.

Haigh’s mesmerising narrative makes the real collide with fantasy, truth flows into the imagined, and apparitions play with the animate as Adam and, in turn, the viewers encounter his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) who still appear to be living in the same home despite having died in an accident 30 years ago when their son was all of 12.

As he talks to and confides in the dead, the film takes us on a walk-through of Adam’s fevered mind, trying hard to face up to childhood bereavement. An equally trying experience for him has been growing up as a closeted gay. “You were always running away. Where were you hoping to go?” asks his dead mother. Will his romantic love help tide over the loss of familial bonds? Will Harry help him get over the twin traumas and move on?

Haigh builds things up to a beguiling closure that doesn’t offer a neat resolution, only underscores the fact that nothing is quite what it seems to be, that pain is not a mere passing phase but a continuum that one has to learn to live with and that hurt and healing move cyclically through our lives, one preceding the other, anticipating the next.

In the middle of all the turmoil, there is gentle humour as well, especially when the film turns its lens on growing up gay in the 80s and how much things have changed since then. Something Adam’s parents, stuck as they are in time, are clueless about.

All of Us Strangers which had its premiere at Telluride and was recently showcased at the Singapore International Film Festival, strikes a deep chord as it lays bare our collective pent-up emotions, repressions, oppressions, regrets, mistakes, desires, scars and vulnerabilities. It is about how we might be oblivious to the suffering of others and a stranger to our own traumas as well. Adam’s personal plight evokes a universal, primordial empathy and the hope that there will be someone to protect us and “keep the vampires from the door”.

Haigh lends an eerie metaphysical dimension to the interiors, the trains and clubs that the film is set in. His writing is terse and pithy, works beautifully with human emotions but is never manipulative or overindulgent when it comes to mining sentiments. It is the precision that makes it piercing and profound.

He is as much in control of his characters with everything eventually boiling down to the give and take among the four actors. In fact, the film is structured like a compendium of two-hander scenes. Reciprocity is all that matters, be it the intense sensuality of the several intimate glances exchanged between Scott and Mescal, the care, concern and affection of the mother Foy for Scott or the unvarnished admission of his own cocky masculinity as his father by Bell and regretting the fact that he never entered the room to help when young Adam would be crying. The quartet is brilliant in the skins of their individual characters and finely tuned as an ensemble.

As the international award season kicks off the film has already amassed seven trophies at the 2023 British Independent Film Awards, including Best Director and Screenplay. It is contending for Best Film, Director and Lead Performance at the Independent Spirit Awards and has a Best Actor in Motion Picture Drama nomination at the Golden Globes. Up next: the Oscars.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Cinema Express