Kiwi drama Vermilion is hamstrung by a frustrating lack of clarityby James Robins
After decades in the business, she has finally made her feature directorial debut with Vermilion. Scheffmann undoubtedly has experience and a deep feeling for film, and bringing original local productions to life can be arduous. It feels rather cruel, then, to say that Vermilion is scattered, disjointed and, at times, woefully underthought.
The story follows Darcy (Jennifer Ward-Lealand), a successful pianist-composer with synaesthesia – that most enchanting of neurological traits, in which sounds appear as colours. The price of success, however, is a strained relationship with her daughter, Zoe (Emily Campbell). Early on, she receives another diagnosis, a far more ominous one, that adds urgency to the planning for Zoe’s upcoming wedding.
There’s something interesting in Scheffmann’s cool and diffuse style. Yet the film is crammed with extraneous details, littered with pointless manufactured crises and crowded with characters whose connections are not altogether clear.
Guy Montgomery, a comedian with a devilish grin and a porno moustache, is wildly miscast as Zoe’s fiancé. And the final resolution, which ought to be poignant, instead feels callous and selfish. To be sure, what hobbles the film is not obtuseness or ambiguity but a lack of clarity. I suspect something has gone badly wrong in the edit, which seems like a great shame and a wasted opportunity.
Buried inside the guts of this film is a good story about an anguished relationship, an artist whose mind is coming undone amid the heady sultriness of an Auckland summer and the incessant buzz of cicadas. Two moments in particular accentuate what might have been. Both are between Darcy and a visiting Irish actor (Peter Feeney). She asks him to don a cassock, to play a priest and provide counsel without the attendant guilt or demands for absolution. Here, Scheffmann’s writing finally lands an emotional blow. The scenes are allowed to settle, and the actors do, too.
Vermilion is not fundamentally flawed, just overstuffed and disorderly. It really ought to have been pared down to its most elemental motivation: a mother trying to reclaim the love of her daughter.
Video: Rialto Distribution
IN CINEMAS NOW
This article was first published in the November 17, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
The conflagration that gave the US President Trump is traced to September 2001.Read more
What do you do if your culture treats mental illness like a curse? Bury it deep.Read more
A review of the Amazon Echo Show smart speaker.Read more
Grace Millane's death is a reminder of the work that needs to be done to reduce violence directed at women in this country, says the PM.Read more
The possibility of Kiwis voting on three contentious issues – euthanasia, cannabis and an MMP shakeup – is like crowdsourcing political decisions.Read more
As a review stalks bullies in the corridors of power, Bill Ralston writes that abuse thrives in the darkness.Read more