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First Look Review - RIVALRIES

Wandering through Shanghai, a man struggles to piece together fragments of his existence.

Review by Ren Zelen

Directed by: Philip Stainsby

Starring: Patrick Doyle, Mark Manning




"The film concentrates on Doyle’s central performance, without resorting to gimmicks or distractions, which does help to give the movie a general cohesiveness, but the film is not entirely successful in building the anticipation or tension it aspires to."


Rivalries is an independent feature length production by English filmmaker Philip Stainsby. The movie is described as a ‘psychological thriller’ set in Shanghai, China.
Patrick Doyle plays the single, nameless, enigmatic protagonist, an employee commissioned to deliver a vital document to a mysterious employer according to a strict deadline for an unspecified amount of money. Doyle’s inner monologue provides the only narrative throughout the movie, as he tries to remain in control of the situation and of his own confusion.
Doyle sports the most untrustworthy moustache recently seen on any screen. This piece of odd facial hair provides the perfect metaphor for the untrustworthiness of the storyline. His character seems to be suffering from some form of short-term memory loss, as he’s constantly re-evaluating where he’s been, what he’s done and whether he was actually himself. Alternative scenarios for his scheduled delivery ‘meetings’ play out - no-one ever turns up. In one scenario he collects a gun, in another he suffers a gunshot wound. He is constantly assessing and then reassessing his situation.
Rivalries begins with an intriguing premise that becomes bogged down throughout the middle section in the banalities and trivialities of the protagonist’s repeated preparations and musings on his apparent Sysiphean task. He keeps rolling that rock uphill, and it keeps rolling down again. He is compelled to deliver the document to no-one in particular, the mission is aborted and he then ends up having to go through the whole procedure again. I imagine that the grinding repetition of simple tasks may be the main theme of the movie. It all gets a bit ‘Kafkaesque’ after a while, perhaps even rather blackly amusing, as the thought occurs as to whether the protagonist is actually a fantasist living out an imaginary existence to compensate for his solitary, dull reality  - an alien trapped within a strange city and a foreign culture.
The second, more interesting character is the city of Shanghai itself.  As an English filmmaker who has made the Chinese metropolis his home, Stainsby has an advantage in creating this sense of alienation and is particularly sensitive to the ambience of the city. He indicates how the hectic, claustrophobic environment of Shanghai may be disorienting and influencing his main character. As Stainsby himself puts it, his character is “at constant loggerheads with the cacophonous city around him” and with “the forces at play inside his own mind”. The chaotic Shanghai cityscape is used as an illustration and companion to enhance Doyle’s enigmatic performance. Filming the environs of Shanghai in a yellow-grey palette gives it a slightly sickly, edgy feel.  (Having lived for several years in Hong Kong myself, perhaps I was more able to empathise with this particular aspect of the movie.)
Philip Stainsby’s direction manages to create a sense of anxiety and unease, which is greatly enhanced by Andrew Mobbs’s pulsating and atmospheric soundtrack and Jason Chonin’s sound design. There is skill evident in the cinematography and stylish looking set pieces. The film concentrates on Doyle’s central performance, without resorting to gimmicks or distractions, which does help to give the movie a general cohesiveness, but the film is not entirely successful in building the anticipation or tension it aspires to.
Patrick Doyle has worked with Philip Stainsby previously on the short film, Walk Forward. For Rivalries Mr Stainsby  has used his standard process of shooting the film on a Canon 60D, and completed post production on a MacBook Pro with Final Cut Pro X. (You can view both Walk Forward and Rivalries at Postproductionmag.com, and on the Post Production Mag YouTube and Vimeo channels.)



Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved.


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