ENCOUNTERS Short Film and Animation Festival ’12 REVIEW: Strawberry Fields

“Do you want to go and see a film on Thursday?”

“What’s it about?”

“Something about fruit picking I think. And there’s two sisters and a rugged farmhand”

“That sounds nice, I like fruit.”

Thus the date was set for me to go and see Strawberry Fields, an indie film directed by Frances Lea at the Encounters Film Festival. The film is part of the Shorts2Features series, first full length features by directors known for their short films.

Whilst there is a bit of hazy dreaminess, particularly towards the start of the film, this is not a lovely story about lovely love and lovely delicious fruit. There is a lot of darkness and griminess in Strawberry Fields and it gets pretty intense at times. We start with our protagonist, Gillian (Anna Madeley) running away, in a rather disorganised and generally weird fashion, to a fruit farm in Kent. There isn’t much in the way of character background or exposition that is spelled out to the viewer, which I like as it lets you learn about the characters by their interactions with one another.

Our girl joins the motley group at the fruit farm and is immediately hit upon by aforementioned rugged farmhand (Emun Elliott), who comes across as a bit of a sleaze but generally an okay guy. There’s a bit more hazy dreaminess including a vaguely trippy scene where the girl gets stoned – it’s not too badly handled but I wasn’t a huge fan of this bit as cannabis is boring in films. Presently her sister (Christine Bottomley) turns up, somewhat overdressed for strawberry picking, and starts causing trouble. It’s at this point that the film really kicks into gear and shows its true colours as an intense psychological drama, steeped in dysfunctional family, female sexuality and mental… unpleasantness. I don’t want to say just mental illness as the director has deliberately avoided labelling of the characters and I think this works well- often real life mental issues can be difficult to pigeon-hole.

The way the plot plays out isn’t hugely original or surprising but then the main focus of the film is the characters, which I feel were not only very realistic and nuanced in their writing but also in their performance. The actors are well cast and very convincing in their roles, all the more impressive as they only had 4 days to rehearse. Lea (who also co-wrote the piece) really has done a good job with a small budget- just £100,000. This certainly doesn’t feel schlocky in the way that low budget films often can – it’s definitely not a B-movie. This is in no small part due to Dave Miller’s excellent cinematography, which makes the backdrop of Kent seem beautiful, in a somewhat bleak, cloudy and generally grubby kind of way.

I attended a Q&A with the director after the film and very much got the impression that she has made a huge effort into making the film exactly how she wanted it, a rarity in today’s world of focus groups, target audiences and catering to the lowest common denominator. She has worked in a prison and obviously has an insight into the psychology of destructive relationships.

So, in summary, if you don’t go to see Strawberry Fields expecting an entirely pleasant experience – it has a pretty grim and gritty subject matter – you’ll find a powerful, engaging and well presented piece of British drama.


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