Words by Jimmy Dougan (follow him on Letterboxd here) / Press images courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
This new film from director Andrew Haigh, adapting Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel Strangers, is a beguiling romance which blends the everyday banality of modern London with supernatural wonder. It is astonishing.
This is a profound and human portrait of love, loss, and longing in contemporary London – and by the end of it my notebook was so dappled with tears that the few notes I’d written were largely illegible. No matter: this is a film which draws you in so overwhelmingly that when you emerge the whole world seems aglow with possibility.
Haigh’s film follows Adam (Andrew Scott), a gay man living alone in a modern apartment building of which he appears to be the sole occupant. With a gently composed montage Haigh paints a softly compelling portrait of loneliness against a backdrop of sprawling urban modernity. The whole world is out there, so why can’t Adam bring himself to leave his flat? It’s a depiction of isolation that many of us will understand all too well.
And so, it comes as a shock to both Adam that one night there is a knock at the door. Wanting to be invited in is Harry (Paul Mescal), the building’s sole other inhabitant. Tentatively, a romance begins to blossom between the two. Harry is of a modern sensibility and labels himself as queer, but for Adam the word evokes memories of a bullied childhood in the suburbs.
But what Haigh’s film does with such wonderful ease is to lay alongside this the supernatural. When Adam is drawn back to his childhood home, he finds it exactly as it was left when his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) were killed in a car accident thirty years ago. More baffling is that they’re there, exciting to see him but slightly bemused. There are ghosts everywhere, and they are different for each person.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on in All of Us Strangers; it’s because there is. But what lends the film its power is how admirably and artfully restrained it is. How it depicts, with such delicacy, how awful it can be to grow up different and how the difficulties of gay childhood have countless reverberations into adulthood.
Adam has never had a partner because he never saw himself worthy of being loved. But the film is told with a heightened poeticism that sidesteps cliché and instead depicts a beautiful longing to reconcile the impossible: the past with the present, slippery memory for firm reality.
Beautiful too are the performances from Scott and Mescal. It really is hard to put into words how powerful their chemistry is, and how it illustrates so sweetly the strangely disarming nature of intimacy. Cinematographer Jamie D. Ramsay often employs charged close-ups which seem to lay their very soles bare, in which you see that both men are simply lost little boys looking for somewhere, and someone, to call home. Scott wears his loneliness like a scar, Mescal his desperation for comfort like an open wound.
Quietly devastating too are Foy and Bell, as Adam’s parents. Adam was never able to tell his parents about his homosexuality but does now, and where it would be easy to push into crass melodrama Foy and Bell – plus Haigh’s script – instead opt for achingly hushed regret. They do so much here with what they allow to flash across their faces; sentences trailing off unfinished. So much hangs in the air, unsaid but present nonetheless.
All of Us Strangers is a ghost story, and Haigh honours the source material by shooting it through with a vein of warm surrealism that recalls not only Yamada’s works but also the novels of Haruki Murakami; everything is treated with a strange matter-of-factness, and nobody really stops to question what exactly is happening.
If you were presented with the opportunity to speak to your parents after their deaths, would you really stop and ask questions?
Haigh’s film reassures us the past is far nearer than it seems, those we mourn and yearn for are only a train-ride away, and nobody is really gone so long as they remain loved. This is cinema-as-hymn, an overwhelming and empowering love letter to those who keep going and make it through.
What an extraordinary and beguiling story of love and ghosts this is, which sings that so long as you live your life in the way you deserve to you are never truly alone. I can think of no film this year that has moved me so powerfully. It is a force from above.
All of Us Strangers – official trailer
All of Us Strangers is set for release in UK cinemas on 26 January 2024. For more on All of Us Strangers visit: www.searchlightpictures.com/all-of-us-strangers
LFF screenings ran at MAC from 4 October until 15 October, for more info visit: www.macbirmingham.co.uk/london-film-festival-2023
To read more about the BFI London Film Festival go to: www.whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff
For more from MAC, including all events listings, visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk
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