The Future Tense
It may be directing duo Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy’s fifth feature-length film, but The Future Tense is perhaps best described as an essay in motion, mulling over ideas of national identity. The UK-based Irish filmmakers establish that, due to pandemic restrictions, they appear as themselves in front of the camera, rather than have actors stand in for them. As they read aloud their thoughts written on green paper, two loose narrative strands emerge: one is a flight from London to Dublin (the words coloured in with images recorded from an airplane window), the other a backstory of the couple’s previous work, Rose Plays Julie.
Another meta element is that when further players are introduced, they are recorded in different locales, but the conversations are edited as if taking place in real time. While undoubtedly a charming gimmick, the setup never manages to fully engage or surprise. For all of the personal insights they share, the fact that everyone is sat at a table, unmoving, while talking about migration, progress and regression has the distancing effect of a Zoom call, when one craves the volatility of face-to-face communication.
The expressed sentiments themselves will hit a nerve with anyone dissatisfied with the current political climate, even as the focus remains on Irish and English relations. Writer Peter Sheridan, for instance, is asked to elaborate on his statement that “The Irish won in America, but lost in England,” then shares his own experience in both countries, which he attributes to Irish identity. Yet his conclusion begs the question whether some of what is classified as a uniquely Irish perception here could have perhaps been equally shared by foreigners of different origin. As well as these thoughts on correlation and causation being debatable, many of the metaphors do not feel thought-through to the end: comparing gaps in teeth to the airspace between countries doesn’t account for the fact that dental hygiene in the Western world is not generally beyond one’s control.
While the link between national heritage and family ties stands to reason, the minute medical records are unsealed for the camera, and the piece reaches a point of navel-gazing that feels somewhat uncomfortable to witness. The experimentation with form due to circumstances beyond one’s control is worth absorbing, yet, overall, one cannot help but wonder if film was the right medium for this explorative and self-reflective essay.
The Future Tense is released on Mubi on 23rd August 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Future Tense here: