Directed by: #HastonMcLaren
Written by: #HastonMcLaren
On first viewing, writer/director (and everything in between) Haston McLaren’s film debut can feel a little jumbled and confusing—contrived, even. We follow the married couple, Harry (Haston McLaren) and Lisa (Lisa Miller) as they negotiate married life, impending parenthood, and grief. But I’d strongly implore you to watch this movie again (at around 90 minutes in length this shouldn’t be too difficult). For only on repeat viewings do all of the film’s multi-layered facets become apparent and begin to bind the story.
Indeed, A Life in August is quite the thinker. It demands the audience pay attention and refuses to make obvious any of its subtle intimations. And why should it? When this much time, effort, and care has been put into creating such a layered and well-thought-out movie, it’s up to the viewer to give it the respect and appreciation it deserves. As a film that requires a good bit of effort from its audience to be thoroughly enjoyed, this is a bold feature debut, and McLaren should be commended.
Staying engaged wasn’t something I found particularly difficult, however. Somewhere between the captivating performances, from both McLaren and Miller, and the gorgeous cinematography, I was utterly glued to the screen. There’s a beautiful if eerie autumnal glow present throughout the film and the beauty of Scotland is ably captured and aptly displayed by McLaren’s sublime camerawork—with the framing being practically perfect. There are a few problems here and there, however. The editing, in particular, requires a lot of fine-tuning, often cutting away too quickly and, occasionally, lingering for too long. Which creates a few awkward moments of silence between actors.
But the film’s most significant issues are with its sound design. The film seemed to be, in places at least, out of sync. Although I can’t be sure whether this was a problem on my end, it’s still worth mentioning. Other than that, the music – while good – is far too loud in several scenes, often drowning out dialogue or (like in the funeral scene) disturbing the mood. Worse yet, there’s a moment in the film when our leads argue in their car, and the camera flicks between interior and exterior shots. It’s a really well-acted and well-shot sequence and gripping to boot. The problem is, as the camera looks into the car from its exterior location, we can’t hear the actors talking, though they still clearly are. There’s a couple of moments like this, I’m unsure if it’s intentional or not (although I’m guessing not), but it’s jarring either way.
But it’s also worth mentioning that McLaren did, literally, everything in this film: from the writing to the visual and sound design, to the editing. And most of the issues the film has could potentially be small tweaks that may yet be fixable.
All-in-all, I think this is a terrific effort from one person; a first-rate piece of independent British film-making. Despite its issues, we’re left with a well-written, well-judged, and in-depth exploration of grief and repression from an obviously talented first-time director. And while on first viewing, it’s easy to miss vital plot elements, on repeat viewing, this is a hugely rewarding experience. One you really shouldn’t miss.