Ordinary Love

[written by thehipsterllama]

There’s only one way to begin this review because really, there’s no beating around the bush, or dancing around the point on matters like this. The fact is that Ordinary Love is one of the best films, if not the best film of the year. 

The filmmakers (Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn) are those behind Good Vibrations, the story of the Irish punk scene leading up to The Undertones, and it’s mildly astonishing that filmmakers who’ve told the story of one of the most seminal pop-punk bands of all time should produce a film so… quiet? 

There’s always been in British cinema, for me, a tradition of a very specific kind of honesty. One could bring up a film like Trainspotting, a film famous for showing the full tonality of highs and lows for a very specific kind of life. That kind of bittersweetness is emblematic of what I find so attractive about British cinema. When one hears the premise of Ordinary Love, (the film follows an ordinary couple, already touched by tragedy, working through a diagnosis of breast cancer), one would probably immediately think of Haneke’s Amour, but for me, tonally, the comparison points are more something like Sometimes Always Never, Happy New Year Colin Bursthead, or ,maybe the best reference, Apostacy . If you want to look outside the UK, On Body & Soul, Wild Strawberries, or Shoplifters are all good matches to Ordinary Love. One might look at Ordinary Love and think that it has a problem in that it never reaches the dramatic heights of something like Marriage Story, but I think that’s exactly the point. If anything, they’re opposite sides of the same coin. Where Marriage Story is a film of a marriage falling apart, that like an opera, goes for all the high notes, Ordinary Love is a film about the strength of love, the strength of a bond, that hardly at all breaks into histrionics. Like Trainspotting, the point isn’t to draw out and accentuate the bitterness, but the point is the beauty inherent in the fact that in life, the bitterness and the sweetness exist side by side all the time. It’s the ecstatic truth that Werner Herzog keeps banging on about. To borrow an expression from Bennett Foddy, it’s this tradition of cinema that appreciates black liquorice, or coffee. 

This isn’t to pretend that the film isn’t hard-going at times. Cancer has touched almost everyone’s life & I know this film bought memories for me that I haven’t thought about for a while. If anything it’s the fact that the film feels so real that makes its hardship feel just that much harder. The fact that the family are already touched by tragedy makes it all the worse. What is the beauty though, the sugar in the espresso, is that you never, for a moment doubt the vibrant, patient love of Joan & Tom, played with almost bracing naturalism & warmth by Leslie Manville & Liam Neeson. They remind me so much of my own parents it’s scary.

To talk about the two leads for a moment – I have no idea how much Manville & Neeson know each other – but based on this movie you’d think they were childhood friends, they have such an easy & natural chemistry. Manville, I’m not totally surprised by. Anyone who’s seen her in TV Show Mum will have seen her have a not dissimilar dynamic with Peter Mullan, but in a more, ‘will they – won’t they?’ relationship. Regarding Neeson, after his recent bout of films like A Walk Among The Tombstones, Takens 1, 2, and 3, and The Commuter, it’s easy to forget that we’re talking about an ex-titan of Irish theatre here. We’re talking about Oskar Schindler, and there are more than a few moments that really elevate his performance to Oscar-worthy. 

All this might give the impression that the film is awfully dry. Not so! For a start, it’s really funny. Neeson’s character at one point is even told off for being too funny. The film is also not scared of surreal or expressionistic filmmaking. There’s a troubling dream sequence that’s properly surreal, there’s a scene of haircutting where the sound of the scissors is mixed to ear breaking levels, (the sound mixing, in general, is really smart). The purple light of a mammogram becomes haunting as it fades to only blue colour values. So many shots are portraits or profiles, hidden & blocked by medical equipment or latex-gloved hands holding needles. The couple we love so much are pushed away by the world & the system. Although it is worth stating, the emotional heart of the movie is that you never ever, for a moment, doubt the longevity of their relationship. 

Finding flaws is hard & probably largely to do with taste. All I’d end on is saying that if you’re a fan of 20th Century Women or Private Life, which I am, this is probably a movie for you. 


A Review

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