The Movie Waffler BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - HAAR | The Movie Waffler

BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - HAAR

Haar review
A TV show production manager contends with personal and professional issues over the course of a day.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ben Hecking

Starring: Kate Kennedy, Balázs Czukor, Fehiniti Balogun, Jack Morris, Claudia Jolly, Will Brown, Grace Chilton, Deborah Findlay

Haar poster

Before the advent of camcorders and smartphones, consumers wishing to preserve moving picture memories had to rely on the Super 8 format. The grainy texture of the 8mm format has come to symobolise memory and nostalgia, and when it's deployed by filmmakers it's usually to evoke both sensations, the classic example perhaps being the credits sequence for The Wonder Years.

Writer/director/cinematographer Ben Hecking's second feature Haar is a rare movie shot completely on Super 8 stock. Where the format is usually purposely made to look amateurish, the striking compositions of Haar remind you that when utilised by professionals this cheapest of film formats has a quality lacking in digital.

Haar review

Though set in the present day, Haar has a nostalgic feel exacerbated by its use of Super 8. Hecking leaves in flares and scratches, and even a stray hair in the gate at one point, which gives it the immediacy of the professional but rushed productions of 1970s and '80s British TV. The title refers to a designation for a type of mist that comes in from the sea, and the film equates a fractured memory with a fog, where some images are clearer than others, and sometimes our eyes and minds can betray us.

Over the course of a day, Jef (Kate Kennedy) is forced to confront both her future and her past as she's hit with two bombshells. Jef is a production manager for a TV show being shot in Budapest, and with the show having just wrapped, she has a few last minute errands to run before leaving the city. While contending with her professional duties, Jef discovers she's pregnant, likely the result of a fling with the show's leading man, Bill (Jack Morris). A phone call from her mother brings the bad news of her father's passing following three successive heart attacks.

Haar review

Jef is statuesque, Amazonian even, but as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. She tries to keep it together as she gets on with her job, but her rigid frame can't disguise the emotions she's suppressing. On a video call with Bill she conceals the news of her pregnancy, instead indulging in a mutual masturbation session. She tells people she wasn't close to her father (who named her Jef because he wanted a boy), but the doubt on her face tells us she might have been closer than she thought. Despite her mental state, Jef attends a party, where a past lover (Fehiniti Balogun) gets some things off his chest about how her self-absorption makes those around her feel belittled.

Watching this well-maintained, professional woman slowly mentally unravel over the course of 80 minutes is like watching a tranquilised giraffe collapse in slow-motion. In her first leading feature role, Kennedy is a captivating presence. With her easy-going front and attractive looks, we can see why Jef is accustomed to being in control of other people, but also how her aloofness might lead to others being trampled in her over-bearing presence. We see an early example of this in how Jef charms a woman who complains that her production left damage at the location she allowed be filmed, the final look on the woman's face that of someone trying to figure out if they've just had their pocket picked.

Haar review

Like many who exude an air of confidence, Jef is a mess internally. In a striking piece of acting we watch as Jef takes a rare breather to sit on a park bench and eat a sandwich. Hecking holds his camera on Kennedy's face as it betrays a myriad of thoughts and emotions as though Jef is trying to compartmentalise her troubles in the manner she might deal with various work issues. Though we only hear her voice, Deborah Findlay is subtly affecting as Jef's distraught mother, and her interactions with her distant daughter are almost word for word those I had with my own mother when she broke the news of my father's passing in similar circumstances.

Haar is a tender tale of a tough woman. With its protagonist traversing a scenic European city, it has the feel of Linklater's Before Sunrise, but instead of asking the audience if two protagonists might fall in love, it proffers the question of whether one woman might learn to love herself. In Kennedy's Jef we're reminded that self-absorption is often a close cousin of self-doubt.

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