Reviewed by Jennie Kermode|
Travelling people, homeless people, people who can't afford expensive cinema tickets, tend to be ignored by the movie world. When they do appear, they're freakish side characters in other people's stories, or the subject of maudlin tales aimed at eliciting audience pity. Occasionally they're presented in a lightweight style which focuses almost entirely on music festival culture. Mouth To Mouth does none of these things. Neither patronising nor sanctimonious, it makes them the subject of a powerful story.
To be accessible to mainstream audiences, of course, this story must initially be approached through the eyes of an outsider. Sherry (Ellen Page) is a disaffected teenager who hooks up with SPARK (Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge), a group which includes a trained medic and which, amongst other things, promises to help its several junkie members kick their habits, and to empower the homeless. Sherry isn't homeless - she just doesn't know where she belongs - and at first she's subject to suspicion and bullying because of this, but she gradually finds her feet and bonds with the group. Her black hair and heavy eyeliner lead to her being called Batgirl, later shortened to Bat. This re-naming seems quite innocent, but is part of the process of altering her identity, a process which will later take on more sinister overtones.
The first half of the film is concerned with Bat's experiences as she comes to understand what being homeless means, overcoming her revulsion at things like looking through bins for food. The group decide to travel across Europe to a music festival. There, to her horror, Bat discovers her mother (Natasha Wightman), who has come to look for her. Conflict ensues, complicated by the fact that her mother has hippy ideals of her own and is also attracted to the group's lifestyle.
In the second part of the film, things get a lot darker. What at first seemed to be a free society of like-minded individuals starts to seem a lot more like a cult, increasingly revolving around the charismatic Harry, whom Bat has a crush on. Now the emotional distance which has made Bat feel rejected could become a vital resource.
Doubtless some viewers will feel angry with Mouth To Mouth for portraying a darker side of the hippy ideal, but the film never pretends to be delivering the only truth, and ultimately has a positive message to deliver. The acting is terrific throughout and many of the characters will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has inhabited drug-using circles - very far from the stereotypes delivered by mainstream films. The distorting lens of Bat's prejudice creates a level of mystery within the deliberately disorganised story, whereby it takes us some time to work out who we can trust and just what each character is capable of. Of particular note are Maxwell McCabe-Lokos as the vulnerable junkie Mad Ax (delivering an affecting performance alongside his real life little brother) and newcomer Beatrice Brown as a former prostitute who, ultimately, isn't sure she wants to be cured. Subtly and without self-aggrandisement, the film challenges the popular notion that intervention is the only appropriate thing for these wayward but still human individuals. In doing so, it is far more effectively anti-establishment than a cheerful story of fun festival-goers could ever have been.
Mouth To Mouth is a remarkably accomplished piece of work from first-time feature director Alison Murray. Meandering along, apparently aimless, it builds up a grip which just won't let go. Don't miss it.
Rating: 4,5 out of 5