Hallam Foe is a film set atop the roofs of Edinburgh. Hallam is a voyeur, and through this practice he amazingly finds love. It's not all good though, because at the same time he's searching for the truth behind his mother's death.
The film has been gaining momentum since it first received a screening, so far winning two awards at the Berlin Film Festival and being nominated for another, the Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas as well as the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Film Music, and being nominated for the highly regarded Golden Berlin Bear. It has also been recently announced that the film is to open the Edinburgh Film Festival 2007.
So when I received an invite for a press screening I was excited, until I heard it was in London and the costs would be too high for a trip down and a stay over, so instead I picked one of the Filmstalker alumni, Ramchandra Solanki.
What follows is his review of the film, and a few of the more interesting questions from a Q&A session that followed the screening.
Written & Directed by: David Mackenzie
Screenplay also by: Ed Whitmore
Tagline: Some People See Life Differently.
Runtime: 95min 14sec
Based on the novel by Peter Jinks, Hallam Foe is a story about a 17-year-old misfit (Jamie Bell).
Hallam's talent for spying on people reveals his darkest fears - and his most peculiar desires. Driven to expose the true cause of his mother's death, he instead finds himself searching the rooftops of the city for love.
Hallam Foe is a boy haunted by the enigma of his mother's death. Did she drown herself, or was she pushed? Hallam has evidence which he believes implicates Verity (Claire Forlani) his alluring, feline step-mother. Yet his own methods for uncovering secrets are no less devious.
From his treetop hideout, or sneaking through his father's decasing Scottish mansion, Hallam spies on people. Most of all he spies on Verity, and the more he becomes obsessed with her guilt, the more his attraction to her grows. When Verity confronts him, Hallam is helpless to resist her seductive power. his only resort is to flee the family nest.
Alone and penniless, Hallam leaves the Scottish Highlands and crashes down into reality. But as he wanders the unforgiving streets of Edinburgh, he discovers another use for his peculiar skill. Catching a glimpse of Kate (Sophia Myles), a young woman who looks uncannily like his mother, he follows her back to the hotel where she works, and talks his way into a job. Life begins to look up for Hallam. By day he discovers friends amongst social outcasts, and by night he does what he loves best - clambering over the city roofs, spying on people in all their hilarious strangeness. The city is a realm of glimmering allure, and Hallam is its freaky spiderman.
Exploring the high-clock of the hotel, he finds a new hideaway from where he can watch Kate at home in her rooftop apartment, gazing through her window with his binoculars. But Hallam's bittersweet visions are shattered when he discovers Kate is embroiled in a seedy liasion with the hotel manager. What happens from here, forms the crux of the story.
Before beginning, many thanks go to Stephen Naughton (from Beatwax) for inviting Filmstalker to this advanced screening of Hallam Foe in London. Firstly I should probably mention this is based on a book I haven't read, and so naturally I'll be making no comparison. My perception here is entirely upon the film put in front of me, and you all know how much I love it when that happens. So here goes ..
As we are introduced to Hallam as he pervs upon a couple with a pair of binoculars from his tree-house, we are thrown straight into his strange little world. It takes a little while to get used to the principal character and his quirks, his hunchback walk and introverted personality seem too wierd to be the 'hero', after all, the main character needs to be someone you can relate to and initially this doesn't quite seem the case, but this is no bad thing.
We familiarise ourselves first with his actions, and as the plot develops, we get to grips with the thought behind it and the way he thinks. It burns down to his defences, the way he is socially quite inept. His means of social endeavour is to watch from afar, before taking any such risk as to communicate with people. A lot of the time he is simply satisfied with watching.
Though initially his actions may come off as intrusive, disrespectful of privacy and all-round devious, we soon get to see the innocence of it all. His actions are more akin to a child not familiar with an object and prodding it with a stick. Convincing the audience of this is where I would say this film scores well.
As far as character development for the remainder of the characters is concerened, they are a little too vague, Hallam seems to have got all the attention, which keeps the focus on him, however this makes the actions of others difficult to digest at times. In particular, Kate (Sophia Myles) seemed to suffer from this most. As a distraction, she is beautiful and acts the part very well, but this doesn't fix the issue that the way she reacts to Hallam's actions seem too devoid of realistic doubt and suspicion. How much of this was in the hands of the film-makers, (bearing in mind is a novel adaptation) is difficult to tell, but it does stand out.
So the writing has its share of positives and negatives, some of which may have been unavoidable, putting this aside and moving on to the visuals of the film. Here I can safely say the work done is optimal, it didn't jump out at me straight away, but once Hallam shifts to the city, we see the contrast between the scenery straight away, in addition the director manages find a good balance between capturing the beauty of the city as well as the more hostile and intimidating environment that a stranger might find themselves in.
As we start following him around rooftops, the camera work does a great job of making it appear that he has no problems getting around up there, and also a shocking view of how high up he actually is. As the viewer we get to see with him downwards to the possible fall, if he were to slip up.
The multiple times that Hallam is hanging outside Kate's loft window, fits the familiarity that we've learnt about Hallam's watching habits and it doesn't jump out as abnormal by this point, (though I feel it may read that way). What is interesting is how each instance that we see him there is a different situation, some quite comic I might add. The dialogue throughout adds a layer of humour that has been carefully weaved into the scenes too. This is a definite huge plus on the writing side. Some of the witty jokes remain most memorable after the show is over.
The character of Hallam is definitely the most intense of the lot and Jamie Bell has done a great job bringing that to life. There is no disputing, he's the star of the show, but credit should certainly also be given to the remainder of the cast for working around him so well. The character of Raymond (Maurice Roëves) as Hallam's fellow colleague in the hotel kitchen is certainly worth a special mention. He adds a level of humour to the ongoings, ensuring the viewer isn't feeling too untoward when the plot is getting heavy. Ewen Bremner gets a similar function later on, as Hallam gets transitioned to a better job.
So by the end of the film we expect some kind of resolution for a number of situations that have been put before us. I'm not really sure what I expected at this point, but what I got was not entirely satisfactory. The situation with Kate is resolved spot on, based on what little we've learnt about her this seems entirely feasible. However going back to the reasons he has run away from home, the resolution seemed to be somewhat forced dramatic. I won't go and ruin it for you, and though the end outcome of the events is appropriate and fitting, it seems they felt it lacked drama and then pumped it through with some. This part may just be me though.
Overall conclusions, It's a well made film, even with the small shortcomings, the character of Hallam is interesting, the performances are top-notch, the direction is spot on, the camera work is appropriately fitting, even the background music is very good, yet it seems to lack something in its overall appeal. If I were to take a wild stab in the dark to suggest what that might be, I'll say that I think it's just not a subject that everybody will be interested in or comfortable with. My advice if you're in two minds about watching this, would be to read over the synopsis and watch it if what you read catches your fancy.
Well, that's my two and a half cents on the film, but wait there's more:
Following the screening there was a Q&A session with Director (David McKenzie), and stars (Jamie Bell and Sophia Myles). Okay though it started as a Q&A session, but it soon was more like a bit of a chat between the press audience and the presenters, most of the questions were vague and answers likewise, but I did make some notes and I'll cover what I learnt.
Q. (to David) - Why did you want to make 'this' movie?
A. Principally because the character of Hallam was interesting, an outcast, wierd and following the process of rehabilitating him.
Q. (to Jamie) - What was the hardest part of playing this character?
A. Getting to grips with the first few pages of the script. He's arrogant, a posh bastard, a pervert, disrespectful to his elders. Why would we like him? Answering the question, I guess approaching the character, getting to like him was initially hard. I learn though that coming to terms with a loss of a parent would be tough, I guess it can result in putting lipstick around your nipples.
Q. (to Sophie) - How did you get the part?
A. I read the script and was familiar with David's work. I practically begged him to give me the part, I wrote him a card and a letter.
A. (David takes over) .. I wouldn't say begged, we met up, had a coffee, talked over the script, but you do this kind of thing all the time, it can get rather de-personalised, I think it was nice that she then followed it up with a nice letter saying she really liked the script and would like to do it.
Q. (to David) The relationship between Kate and Hallam was quite ambiguous. Was it intended this way?
A. Well yea, the film spans over 3 weeks, we wanted to be realistic about it.
Q. (to All) The internet has become a tool for yourselves to work with the civilian audiences, has this made things easier or harder as a process?
A. (Sophia) Well the first shock I had was identity fraud, I tried setting up a myspace account only to find there already is one, with a picture of me and it even states that "I like creepy guys", taken straight from this film. -- I asked her personally later and she wants to clarify that she doesn't actually like creepy guys :)
A. (Jamie) It's great, imdb is practically your resume avaialble to anyone anywhere, myspace, ipod trailers, it's what its all about, I mean 'fuck billboards', if you want someone to know about what you're selling, put it on your myspace frontpage and a million people can see it instantly.
Following the Q&A there were snack and drinks, where we all mingled and discussed likes and dislikes in films, the weather, the internet and well the atmosphere was very down to earth. This really did surprise me, I expected them to be more stuck up if I'm honest. Lastly but certainly not least I'd like to say thanks to Richard for putting myself forward as a fellow Filmstalker representative at this elite preview screening. It was a great evening. I even got my picture taken with Jamie Bell :)
Richard: Many thanks to Ramchandra Solanki for his review, and watch out for him around the site. That's been two Filmstalker regulars who have attended private press screenings, next time it could be you.