by Tim Knight|
Inspired by her own experiences as a teenage runaway in Europe, Alison Murray's Mouth to Mouth is an erratic, often frustrating blend of conventional narrative and choreographed movement. Although this debut feature has many virtueschief among them Canadian newcomer Ellen Page's emotionally honest performanceit's ultimately undermined by Murray's shallow and unfocused approach to her potentially compelling portrait of a young woman in the thrall of a radical street collective.
Mouth to Mouth begins in the streets of Berlin, where Sherry (Page) falls in with the homeless teens and recovering heroin addicts who comprise the group SPARK: Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge. Under the charismatic sway of perpetually shirtless SPARK leader Harry (Eric Thal), the collective's members dumpster dive for food and revel in their freedom from the nine-to-five life. Harry and his aide-de-camp, Tiger (August Diehl), preach the gospel of self-reliance and unconditional love to Sherry and the others, including the appropriately nicknamed Mad Ax (Max McCabe) and Nancy (Beatrice Brown).
For Sherry, who is bitterly estranged from her mother, Rose (Natasha Wightman), SPARK initially provides a safe, nurturing refuge from the streets. But over time she begins to see that Harry is actually a controlling, manipulative tyrant who wants everyone to do his biddingor suffer the consequences.
Aside from Page's sensitively wrought performance, Mouth to Mouth's main strength is its bracing, off-the-cuff immediacy. There's a raw, spontaneous quality to it, especially in the early scenes, which feel authentic; it's obvious that Murray has an intimate grasp of the dynamics of street life. The first-time writer/director also does an effective job of depicting Sherry's growing disenchantment with Harry, who reveals his true, darker colors bit by bit. Regrettably, Murray's scattershot handling of narrative particulars and character development prevents Mouth to Mouth from having any genuine emotional resonance. And the less said about her awkward and ill-conceived use of choreography in pivotal scenes, the better; it smacks of performance art at its most pretentious.