Postcards from London

 

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A gay movie which, for better or worse, is strikingly individual.

 

Postcards from London

Harris Dickinson

 

What a very curious film this is! If I say that it is about a teenager from Essex who arrives in London's Soho in search of a world full of mystery and possibilities and becomes a rent boy, it may sound orthodox enough as a movie likely to attract a gay audience. But, starting with the fact that its writer/director Steve McLean virtually avoids sex scenes and excludes full nudity, Postcards from London handles this storyline in a manner that makes it unique. What we have here is a totally stylised world with all the filming done on sets and a sense of design that brings to mind the least realistic films made by Fassbinder, not least 1982's Querelle. This artificiality also extends to the dialogue and, if all this is a kind of conceit creating a work of specialised appeal, it nevertheless proceeds consistently and with real visual stylishness (colour photography by Annika Summerson, production design by Ollie Tiong).

 

There is, however, another aspect to this piece that seems as central as the stylisation. Jim is adopted as the fifth member of a group of young male escorts who call themselves the Raconteurs and whose speciality is the post-coital conversation that they engage in with their clients, usually older men, on the subject of art. This may sound unlikely but it is in line with McLean's notion of giving us a film that constantly references gay artists. Although this extends to writers such as Cavafy and E. M. Forster, the focus is mainly on exponents of visual art. That includes dialogue referencing Fassbinder and Pasolini alongside actors such as Joe Dallessandro but at the centre are painters. The first painting to be seen is by Titian but, creating a relevant link to the cinema of Derek Jarman, Caravaggio is the artist most prominently featured here. However, a fictional character, Max, to whom Jim becomes a muse, echoes Francis Bacon whose relationship with George Dyer is touched on more than once.

 

Postcards from London is certainly highly original even if it seems to be addressed rather snobbishly to gays who relish being intellectual in their talk and outlook. Visually, it lives up to its ambitions, but after a while one wants something with more dramatic weight or sparkle (the talk is smart rather than witty and even at 90  minutes the film seems to be taking a long time to say very little). From the outset, we learn that Jim tends to faint in front of great paintings and it appears that this happens because he suffers from a psychosomatic disorder known as Stendhal's syndrome. It sounds like an unlikely invention for the film but does apparently exist in reality. However, that doesn't prevent the later plot development seeming silly when Jim's condition is shown as enabling him to tell if a painting is a fake because then he doesn't faint! The artificiality makes Jim a less rewarding role for Harris Dickinson than the one he took so well in the American movie Beach Rats (2017) and, while the conclusion sees Jim asserting his independence, this stand seems to come out of nowhere. The movie's best moments are incidentals - the soundtrack rendering of 'My Funny Valentine' by supporting actor Jonah Hauer-King rather than by a female vocalist and a scene between Dickinson and, if I identify him correctly, Silas Carson in which gay feelings for once become palpable.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Harris Dickinson, Jonah Hauer-King, Richard Durden, Leemore Marrett Jr, Jerome Holder, Alessandro Cimadamore, Trevor Cooper, Stephen Boxer, Silas Carson, Leonardo Salerni, Raphael Desprez, Ben Cura.

 

Dir Steve McLean, Pro Soledad Gatti-Pascual, Screenplay Steve McLean, Ph Annika Summerson, Pro Des Ollie Tiong, Ed Stephen Boucher, Music Julian Baylisss, Costumes Kate Forbes.

 

Diablo Films/BFI/Creativity Capital-Peccadillo Pictures.
90 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 23 November 2018. Cert. 15.