Amongst a sea of raucous Hollywood films boasting hundred million dollar budgets comes something vastly different from a crew of savvy independent American film makers with a point to prove.
Part Gone Girl, part Lost in Translation and part Scandinavian romance, Autumn Lights is a thinking man’s film which demands one’s undivided attention as it explores the human aspects of lust, loneliness and the emotional connection between its characters and a surreal landscape.
“Bring your thinking hats. This fresh indie flick is more Nicolas Winding Refn than Seth Rogen stoner movie.”
The narrative is set early on in the film when lone American photographer David (Guy Kent) finds himself wandering across one of the most remote parts of Iceland on a personal photography project.
Audiences are quickly acquainted with the visual masterpiece that is Iceland through the foreign eyes of David and epic panning shots. It’s not long before things take a more ominous turn though when he stumbles upon a woman’s dead body on a secluded beach.
Ordered to stay in town whilst police conduct their investigation, David attempts to continue his work and eventually meets a seemingly well-off mysterious couple in the form of an attractive young Italian named Marie (Marta Gastini) and her Icelandic husband Johann (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson).
Due to their lengthy proximity to regular civilisation, the trio befriend each and the allure of Marie eventually draws David into a dangerous game of lust amongst her circle of friends whilst the game-hunting Johann keeps a close eye.
No doubt it’s the performances from the young cast which drives Autumn Lights well into a darker space. American writer and director Angad Aulakh makes his feature directorial debut here and you can really see the lengths he’s gone to to achieve the balance of performance and striking cinematography.
Speaking to Guy Kent who plays David and also double-dipped as the film’s co-producer, he told us that the overall atmosphere of Autumn Lights could not have been possible anywhere else in the world.
“When we came up with Autumn Lights it needed to be a place with that geographical isolation that Iceland had,” he said.
“The dramatic geography, the talent there within Scandinavia…I don’t think it would be the same movie anywhere else. Iceland is a major character in this film.”
Kent says that even the natural lighting, which sees the sun out for about 23 hours in a day did its part in setting the film’s tone.
“It’s so beautiful you could point a camera at a gas station and it’ll look awesome. It was a story written for Iceland.”
What’s intriguing about the film is following the development of the characters who are thrust into implications of free love and temptation.
David’s character throughout the story is brooding and introverted with minimal dialogue for the most part and it’s only in the second half that he begins to show his own cards spurred on by events that spiral out of his control.
Marie is also another standout talent who took to the free-spirited character like an axe to a pot plant. She’s equal parts alluring, eloquent and highly unpredictable. Her own isolation in the film is constantly juxtaposed with David’s as she longs to experience life to its fullest whilst testing the limits of her questionable marriage to Johann.
Speaking about the film’s respectable performances, Kent says that a lot of it came down to preparation with the film’s director.
“Getting a clear understanding of the character of David and how he fits into the story and how he will reflect that feeling was something we discussed at length,” says Kent.
“Angad has a really specific point of view on his characters and the look of his film – this goes for lines and being heard a certain way.”
“Acting is so much about the listening so that was the incredible opportunity for me. Primarily listening to Marie in the second half.”
According to Kent, completing the compelling story that is Autumn Lights was only possible through creating their own opportunities.
Both Aulakh and Kent have a similar outlook and approach to to film and life in general so it was only destiny when the pair met that they’d do something different from the current crop of budding L.A film makers.
“We needed to make our own opportunities because we’re very impatient people,” Kent admits.
“And we’re not ones sitting around waiting for someone to give us the go ahead. We were fortunate to team up with these producers in Iceland who were big fans of the previous films.”
“We lucked out on timing [with previous film attempts] but we hit the ground running with this film and creating opportunity.”
And creating opportunity is what these fine young talents have done in piecing what is essentially a very adult genre across three different sub-genres. The filming style and location is haunting yet the human characters and their emotions prevent the audience from being completely alienated.
In other words, you’re always kept on your toes wondering if anyone is going to die next, who’s going to end up with who and whether there’s a major plot twist being planted for the climax.
For a first time directorial debut, Angad Aulakh has done a stellar job in ensuring the pace balances his characters and its often silent, washed-out environment. The rest is left up to accomplished actors from Iceland and Europe alongside the fresh face of Kent who seems to channel the glum persona of a less-erratic Cillian Murphy.
For those looking for a film that’s deeper than the current crop of blockbusters and showcases a fine young cast of this generation’s actors, we’d recommend checking out Autumn Lights.
Bring your thinking hats though. This is more Nicolas Winding Refn than Seth Rogen stoner movie.
Autumn Lights will premiere in North American cinemas on October 21.