‘Unknowns’: the beautiful intimacy of a love nightmare with Paul Mescal | Culture


The true story of this film is in the dejected face of Andrew Scott. Before the more or less true and ghostly present that the story tells, the character played by the formidable Irish actor was a sad and bewildered child for a time that was not his. Naturalness for those who, like him, thought differently and were excited by unspeakable things, was yet to come in a good part of societies. Like many other teenagers in the 1980s in the United Kingdom, where unknown, and in so many other places in the world, the boy was absolutely loved by his family. But his parents did not know how to see or deal with his external weakness, his nightly cries, his musical tastes, his silent condition. And he became a lonely, creative and suspicious adult. Maybe in a stranger.

Inspired by the novel strangers, published by the Japanese Taichi Yamada in 1987, and of which a film adaptation had already been made —Summer with a stranger (1988), by Nobuhiko Obayashi—the British Andrew Haigh has composed a painful and implacable film, romantic and reflective, but above all mysterious, about love: family, sentimental, sexual. A work of overwhelming stylization about a meeting and a reunion. The meeting with a neighbor in a mammoth and apocalyptic building in London, recently inaugurated and that seems taken from a JG Ballard novel, in which only they seem to live, each one in an extreme apartment; a place far from realism, like the entire film, a symbol of the loneliness of both. And the reunion with parents to hug and tell, remember and celebrate. Even if it is in the despair of death.

Jamie Bell and Claire Foy surround Andrew Scott (with his back turned) in ‘Strangers’.

Is Unknown a work based on the value of its interpretations and its eerie sense of restlessness within an apparently calm story. Although perhaps it is the other way around: in its eerie sense of calm within an anguished story. A commotion that is also reached through forms. From Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s enveloping soundtrack; of the festive, sad and generational collection of songs that accompanies it, with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys and The Housemartins as flags; of the spectral design of the tortuous interiors of it; of her ghostly light; of its resounding colors.

Haigh, director of the excellent Weekend (2011) and 45 years (2015), with which it has so much to do Unknown In his loving ecstasy and in his conceptual reflection on the true nature of desire and affection, the filmmaker uses, perhaps without knowing it (one would have to ask him), some of the narrative formulas of the best Carlos Saura of the seventies, the one from Cousin Angelica, The Garden of Earthly Delights and Raising Crows, and those impossible encounters between human beings in different times and even universes.

To the protagonist’s promised land, dotted by Promise Land, by Joe Smooth, classic house from the late eighties, we have come through a tolerant society in a contemporary time in which homosexual love does not have to be cornered. However, the weight of the past, of confusion and depression, still weighs too much. Scott and Paul Mescal, the priest of Fleabag, the father of Aftersun, They have it written on their faces. And his performances, along with those of Claire Foy and Jamie Bell, round out a fascinating work. The sequence of the meeting at the door of Scott’s apartment, with the slow tempo of conversation and those acting monster looks, remains written in his memory.


Address: Andrew Haigh.

Performers: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy, Jamie Bell.

Gender: drama. United Kingdom, 2023.

Duration: 105 minutes.

Premiere: February 23.

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