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True Calling review

Directed by: #EricKnudsen

Written by: #EricKnudsen

A man and a woman look longingly into eachother's eyes.
True Calling

… … … uhhh … … no … … … what? How long have I been unconscious for? 6000 years? How on earth did this happen?

The disembodied AI running the state-of-the-art Venusian hospital I’ve been kept in for 4000 of those years informs me that at the time I passed out, I had been watching a 21st century romantic film titled True Calling. Naturally I was intrigued to find out how something as seemingly innocent as a movie could do this to a healthy human mind, and by scanning my brain waves, the helpful AI has been able to compile a snapshot of just what went down all those millennia ago. I only hope the account of those events doesn’t have the same devastatingly powerful soporific effects. Brace yourselves.

On the eve of an election debate, a high profile politician goes off the grid in the hope of rekindling a romance with a childhood friend who’s on the eve of getting married.

So, it’s a romance. A romance with no romantic energy, or any energy of any kind. David Smith and Eliza Marsland wade through their insipid dialogue with the enthusiasm of two farm animals touring an abattoir. The pair's lack of chemistry is compounded by director Eric Knudsen’s uncomfortable POV shots, which puts the frost right under the lens. Is it a smart portrayal of an unresolved romance between two people who haven’t seen each other in 17 years? The awkwardness, the stilted exchanges, the absent frisson. I'm going with no.

Then there’s Knudsen’s misapprehension of how pacing works. Letting scenes end while holding the camera on whatever artful image has been lined up may look great for photography school, but it’s anathema for cinema, a medium that relies on tempo. You can’t just stop the film to linger on a shot you particularly like—the shot has to be incorporated into the film which, apparently surprising though it may be, has narrative demands.

Cinematographer and colour-grader Kwaku Oware is the one member of the production team to come out with credit. The desaturated greyness of the picture is aesthetic rather than grim, capturing the winter chill of Northern England’s colour palette and servicing the ethereal turn the plot takes in the final act. It doesn’t wholly come off—the contrast is too bright, but it’s an ambitious visual goal that deserves better than to be snuffed by a cinematically-induced coma.

To be clear, if you think these sleep references are just analogies, think again. This honestly begins and ends with ASMR and contains two long scenes of a man sleeping. It’s like watching a real-life Truman Show. And as an afterthought during the finale, a complementary dose of sermonising is mixed in with the Propofol. The main character is called Joshua Joseph, he gets baptised by “Jonny” John, he gets asked what he really believes in and why are there people in the world. Knudsen stops just short of forcing me to join hands in a circle and sing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”, but only just.

That’s the last of the thoughts I had before entering my 6000-year slumber. The AI assures me I will make a full recovery. Turns out I wasn’t alone either—True Calling caused the Great Somnolence Crisis of 2021. Only Jeff Bezos in his giant sausage-shaped spaceship was able to escape the catastrophe, repopulating the universe with billions of babies that looked just like him. Thankfully artificial intelligence has long since wiped them out. I guess this is the proof we’ve all been looking for—cinema really can transport you. Or perhaps it's just the anaesthetic waring off.



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