Around the Sun

 

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A haunting experience provided by a film entirely out of the ordinary.

 
Around the Sun

Gethin Anthony and Cara Theobold

 

The sheer originality of this film makes it remarkable, but it is all the more extraordinary for being a debut feature. Although the director, Oliver Krimpas, is of mixed nationality (British and Greek) while the writer, Jonathan Kiefer, is an American, these two met as students in Boston and have now made this, their first full-length film, together. One tends to treat a film's director as its chief begetter, but the concept behind Around the Sun is so unusual that one can only regard it as a work born of the closest possible collaboration between Krimpas and Kiefer.

 

Shot in Normandy, Around the Sun is virtually a two-hander and descriptions of it indicate that it concerns a location scout (Gethin Anthony) sent to look over a chateau now empty and somewhat decayed. The person who has the job of showing him around is Maggie (Cara Theobold) and, drawing on her knowledge of the property's history, she tells him of it being the very place where the 17th century scientist/philosopher Fontenelle wrote his classic book Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. Despite the book being in essence an outline of scientific ideas (including the belief that the earth and the planets revolve around the sun which was clearly the source of the title for this film), it was written in the form of a conversation taking place between a philosopher and a marquise. Indeed, attempts to describe the film hint that the talk and possible flirtation between the two contemporary characters is a kind of ghostly reliving of what transpired with the couple envisaged by Fontenelle.

 

As an attempt at a plot description, this may make Around the Sun sound unusual but, as the film develops through five sections each with its own chapter heading, what emerges is even more complex and wider in the scope of its ideas than one had been led to suppose. The film's second section begins by repeating the opening of the first, but now with changes incorporated despite certain lines of dialogue remaining the same. As the variations build, some viewers have been reminded of the 1997 Gwyneth Paltrow picture Sliding Doors which offered contrasted versions of a person's life dependent on fate bringing about either one chain of circumstances or another. One can understand that comparison being made but the earlier movie in spite of its novel construction was simply a neat example of popular filmmaking. In contrast, Around the Sun takes its cue from Fontenelle and his book which, published in 1686, really did exist. The ideas expressed in it, many to some extent ahead of its time, apparently dwelt on the very nature of the universe with its infinite stars and even extended to references to extra-terrestrial life. All of this is now pondered further in relation to life as it is today taking aboard not just the world around us but the nature of love itself, its complexities and what can realistically be expected of it.

 

As this suggests, Around the Sun is a philosophical piece with much talk in it and on that level it is not always easy to grasp what it is saying. However, any risk of it being a dry and remote film is alleviated by a number of factors. A key one lies in the excellent performances of its two lead actors who bring the characters to life as convincing individuals. Another useful contribution comes from the fact that rather than being po-faced, this is a film that contains many touches of humour in the writing and even carries off a short sequence in the middle which sees our actors actually wearing period costume and speaking in a style redolent of the 17th century. Another pleasing element is to be found in the piano score by Steven Gutheinz.

 

Early on we find shots of facial close-ups which prove to fit neatly with an unexpected plot development linked to the notion that the first half of the film has existed as a series of imaginings in Maggie's head. These later sequences confirm the romanticism within the film but still leave it a work which is less than readily comprehensible.  Indeed, it is nearer to Alain Resnais's enigmatic classic Last Year in Marienbad than it is to Sliding Doors, but no comparisons provide an exact fit. Around the Sun is quite defiantly its own thing and, even if one does not fully understand it, the film is carried out with such assurance that, rather than feeling frustrated by it, you would willingly sit through it again. And that stands despite the fact that you might suspect that on further viewings its mysteries would remain.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Cara Theobold, Gethin Anthony.

 

Dir Oliver Krimpas, Pro Oliver Krimpas, Screenplay Jonathan Kiefer, Ph Michael Edo Keane, Ed Patrick Brooks, Music Steven Gutheinz, Costumes Maryna Gradnova.

 

Execution-Dependent Films Ltd-Execution-Dependent Films Ltd.
79 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 4 August 2020. Available on VOD. Cert. PG.