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Wanting Mare, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A noble effort, anyway."
3 stars

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes find the idea of engaging with difficult art — dry philosophical writing, discordant music, slow and artsy film — more appealing than the reality of it.

Such might be true of Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s feature debut The Wanting Mare, which I almost feel I owe a second viewing. It’s everything I often say I want more of in movies, and so I dearly wish it had grabbed me at any point. A little humor might have helped; a darting spot of personality. But it’s an art object, and the people in it are not characters so much as concepts. Here and there it reminded me of another doodle of artsy fantasy, Begotten, although this film at least appeals much more to the eye.

Maybe too much. The Wanting Mare was shot mostly in a huge storage unit, even though more than half its scenes take place outside. Bateman then spent several years digitally painting the backdrop, or, if you will, the world. So the space the actors seem to inhabit doesn’t exist, but then the actors barely seem to exist in it either. The images have richness and depth; the characters don’t. I think we glancingly see one character laughing, during a montage in which we don’t know why she’s laughing. The scene is abstract, like the rest of the movie; the woman laughing stands in for the idea of merriment.

The montage is supposed to pull us into identification with young couple Moira (Jordan Monaghan) and Lawrence (Bateman), who meet inauspiciously when Moira happens across a bleeding Lawrence after he bungles a robbery. In this stark world, which has intimations of the apocalyptic, people speak in whispers about their dreams of the time before. Whatever that past was like, it was probably better than the movie’s present, where people kill and die for precious tickets to journey “across” to a better land. I read somewhere that Bateman wants to make further movies set in this bifurcated world of Anmaere, and again, the idea of a shared-universe series of stubbornly obscure art films is much happier than the actual films would probably be.

After a while, all the movie has going for it is its artificial environment, and sadly there’s at least one shot where you can see the seams, a car’s wheels that are clearly rolling across a flatter surface than the bumpy soil that was cooked up in a computer to go beneath the car. When a movie rests so heavily on the authenticity of its visual fakery, a glitch like that really wrenches us out of its spell. The movie hasn’t earned the simple warm goodwill we extend to the iffier shark effects in Jaws, agreeing to overlook one klutzy shot because every other one has been fantastic. The images in The Wanting Mare are gorgeous, but they don’t connect to much, and they unfold at a remove from us.

The uncharitable suspicion grows that the movie considers rumpled, ornery, funny humanity too crude for its scheme. People whisper languidly at each other. Generations pass; babies grow into women who adopt other babies who grow into women, and they’re all looking for The Dream that exists somewhere Across, from the World Before. The dialogue is almost all capitalized like that. The conversations are somberly meaningless — plot blurts that read like cookie fortunes.

Part of the backstage drama of the film involves Bateman hinging everything on effects to be added later, effects he had no idea whether he could pull off. Well, mostly he has, and the movie is one hell of a calling card — proof that Bateman can craft bleakly convincing scenery. What he needs are compelling people to stick in front of it.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=34113&reviewer=416
originally posted: 02/20/21 08:47:42
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USA
  05-Feb-2021 (NR)
  DVD: 09-Feb-2021

UK
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Australia
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