In the directorial debut from actor Mercedes Grower, Brakes tells a collection of weird and funny stories of conflicted relationships in the London area.
We are given snippets of nine relationships, ranging from the hilarious to the horrible. It’s never certain what tone the next story will take. We could be safely laughing along at a bicurious man rejecting his gay friend’s affections after a raunchy experience in Barcelona, then have our hearts ripped out as we’re dropped into a loveless marriage. In true Godardian fashion, the second half flashes back to when the couples are happy, often when they first meet each other.
Each tale has a tiny amount of time, but they’re all carefully constructed – feeling like a short story compendium. The performances are vivid and memorable, demonstrating the range of talent sprinkled across the movie – including an appearance from surreal comedian Noel Fielding, who proves to be a reasonably good dramatic actor (despite not appearing entirely comfortable in the role).
Grower employs a shaky, cinema-verité style recalling the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers of the early 60s and the Danish Dogme 95 directors in the 90s, fighting against filmic traditions. So there is an intelligence behind the badly sewn appearance, which is fun to watch considering Britain’s social realistic aversions to such Brechtian devices in cinema. But the era of being impressed by amateurs (with storytelling talents) is over, regrettably replaced by YouTube. In our digitally democratic times, the cheap, freeform approach is written off as the unschooled indulgence of a creative teenager. Film scholars and art students will know exactly what Grower is going for, but nobody else will.
Brakes is admirable in its ambition, but the motivations behind the style are unclear (beyond the lack of budget) – falling into the same gimmicky holes as many student films. It’s a deluded attempt to rekindle the rebellion against the academic Tradition of Quality, leading to a future that doesn’t reach beyond the internet and film school lecture halls. But the writing and the performances are excellent, pulling the viewer deep into the characters’ individual worlds.
Brakes is released nationwide on 24th November 2017.
Watch the trailer for Brakes here: