Film Review: WASTELANDS (2020)

WASTELANDS **** UK 2020 Dir: Kemal Yildirim. 97 mins

Natasha Linton is outstanding in this extension of co-writer / star / director Kemal Yildirim’s stark short SAUDADE (2017), with some of the same cast. WASTELANDS intensely unfurls an unflinching portrait of one deeply troubled young woman. Living in the family home inherited from her late mother, Alice (Linton) leads an alienated existence away from her thankless day job for a sleazy boss. In a sequence of authentic mutual resentment, her dad’s wife hands over responsibility for his care to Alice. While the non-linear narrative offers fragments of her past, she rekindles a psychologically damaging relationship with former lover Tristan (Yildirim) in between tending to a father (Sean Botha) increasingly ravaged by Huntington’s Disease.

Since we experience the minutiae of Alice’s life up close and personal, WASTELANDS is, by its very nature, gruelling and repetitive. At the core of this bold and empathetic portrait of depression is Linton’s fearless, often dialogue-less performance. Few movies about mental illness are this voyeuristically unsentimental, with scenes of sex and masturbation as jarring to watch as the grim physical detail of Alice’s habitual, bloody scratching at her palm – or the deliberately unpleasant close-ups of customers at her café routinely stuffing their faces. Meanwhile, her sole surviving close family member is reduced to a dependent shell of a human being, facing the indignity of being bathed and fed by his estranged daughter. Potentially one-note characters are portrayed with more depth than most would afford: Nicola Wright, as Botha’s second wife, quietly suggests significant heartbreak of her own in the short screen time she has to sketch the “other woman”. At its strongest when relaying Alice’s plight entirely via sound, music and image (it’s strikingly shot by Yildirim and co-writer Mol Smith, with a haunting score by Kosta T.), WASTELANDS strikes the occasional false note in performance and dialogue – but it’s still a film of considerable power, and you won’t forget Linton’s performance in a hurry.

Review by Steven West


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