The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - ALL IS VANITY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - ALL IS VANITY

all is vanity review
A London fashion shoot takes a strange turn.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Marcos Mereles

Starring: Sid Phoenix, Yaseen Aroussi, Isabelle Bonfrer, Rosie Steel, Christopher Sherwood

all is vanity poster

"All is vanity." Or, to expand the lection; "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity." An expostulation which opens Ecclesiastes, from the Old Testament, and instructs us how the human way is ultimate folly against the infinite endurance of the world, which unlike squishy mortal man, "remains forever." The scripture goes on to remind us that novelty is disingenuous too, as "there is no new thing under the sun." Phrase for everything in that Bible, it seems. But I wonder if there is a cautionary holy maxim which refers to the underwhelming production of a patchy indie drama with a gimmicky twist which it has no idea what to do with? An equitable discussion of All is Vanity, the just-about feature length debut of writer/director Marcos Mereles, must involve said narrative convolution, the revelation of which will ruin the film’s baryta thin raison d'être. So, spoilers ahead.

all is vanity review

All is Vanity’s so-so trickery begins with the visual language of True Crime: static shots of empty space and portentous voiceovers tentatively alluding to Something Bad That Happened. Flash back to a photo shoot in a cliché-chic loft apartment of scrubbed floorboards, whitewashed walls and oversized props. The players involved are variously placed upon the preening vacuous nob scale, and the credits duly give each no identity beyond their role: how ‘arch’. There is chief sneak The Photographer (Sid Phoenix), elusive The Makeup Artist (Rosie Steel), naïve The Intern (James Aroussi) and jaded The Model (Isabelle Bonfrer).

The first half hour involves this lot being furtive to each other before one of them eventually disappears, along with the electricity cutting out a couple of times. It is mysterious. Mereles and cinematographer Murat Ersahin do create a pleasingly hollow atmosphere in this opening sequence, which pertains to the essential emptiness of most fashion photography. Of course, this is not an especially original point of view, but the dynamic of commercial photography, the conjuring of superficial desire from fabricated ideals, is always an effectively spooky impetus; "to photograph someone is a subliminal murder," etc. You do wonder how they’re going to stretch this blatancy out for another 40 mins or so, though...

all is vanity review

But then in a flash it all switches and it turns out that we’ve REALLY been watching a film which is being made about a murder during a photo shoot in a cliché-chic loft apartment of scrubbed floorboards, etc. Ahhh, weren’t expecting this, were we? Well, no. Because what we’ve patiently sat through with open hearts and minds has been edited to the identifiable rhythms of narrative cinema (not, say, ‘found footage’), as is the ensuing meta-pull back. It’s the lazy dishonesty of spiking someone’s drink: a point underlined by the close-up words "you’ve been poisoned" printed on the inside bottom of a mug someone in the film drinks from. The film doesn’t break its characteristically aloof tone either, which may be a construction referring to the duology of photo/cinematography as a slim reflection of indistinguishably blank subjects, or simply the only speed All is Vanity is capable of operating at. New characters are also christened with archetypal definers - The Film Director, etc - and there is also an ongoing sense of mystery, which here stretches the theme of duplication into creepy fantasy.

The initial ‘got ya’ meta refraction of All is Vanity goes no further than equating the purposeless endeavour of photographing a subject to the similarly fruitless enterprise of filming a narrative, and, yes, I suppose, eventually writing about it (when the film really begins to unravel, a film critic - The Film Critic - appears to comment on ongoing events. He’s the type of pretentious, circumlocutory bore who might quote Susan Sontag in a review... see, two can do this meta thing).

all is vanity review

There are potentially interesting ideas here, but none of them are given the necessary focal point, making the treatment as superficial as the pursuits All is Vanity satirises. At a mercifully short 72 minutes or so, the film doesn’t so much end as disappear up its own aperture. This eye is not satisfied with seeing (Ecclesiastes 1.8 *).

All is Vanity is in UK cinemas and on VOD from October 14th.

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