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EDINBURGH — Karl Golden’s “Pelican Blood,” which has its world premiere tonight (June 17) at a gala screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, revolves around two suicidal people who regard dying young at their own hands as less of a tragedy than going through the motions of living.
Young English actor Harry Treadaway and Australian Emma Booth, both attractive and engaging performers, succeed in revealing not just the anxiety and vulnerability but also the gutsy bravado of their troubled characters.
Set in the obsessive-compulsive world of serious bird watching, the film tackles the difficult topics of self-harm and suicide with intelligence and sympathy while not forgetting that it’s a movie. Appealing performances and a dark, complex subject matter should see the film do well at festivals and make inroads into the mainstream.
Treadaway plays Nikko, a good-looking and seemingly cheerful young man whose chief pleasure in life is going with his mates Bish (Ali Craig) and Cameron (Arthur Darvill) into the woods with binoculars to spot rare species of birds, with each one duly noted in a scruffy notebook.
Nikko, however, has something in mind beyond avian obsession. He has recorded an extraordinary 487 sightings and is determined that when he reaches 500 he will kill himself. He has a history of such feelings, and part of the reason for that becomes clear when his beautiful but exasperating ex-girlfriend, Stevie (Booth), whom he met in an online suicide chat room, comes back into his life.
To his mates, Stevie is Yoko to their Beatles, but Nikko is charmed by her steely determination and outrageous behavior, not to mention her good looks. Their complicated personalities mesh and clash as Cris Cole’s clear-eyed screenplay, based on a novel by Cris Freddi, leads them to a surprising climax.
Golden does well to illuminate the many levels of the central characters, with Nikko shifting subtly from the companionship of his mates to the intimacy of a shared conspiracy with his girl.
He captures the innocent fun of spotting a rare winged creature, the crazed joy of lovemaking that’s tinged with danger and the desperate lack of understanding that can lead to bemusement and despair.
He makes the point that often the things we stare at most are the last things we truly see, and the film’s final images are haunting.
Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival
Production: Ecosse Films
Cast: Harry Treadaway, Emma Booth, Ali Craig, Arthur Darvill, Christopher Fulford
Director: Karl Golden
Screenwriter: Cris Cole
Producers: Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae, John McDonnell
Director of photography: Darran Tiernan
Production designer: Richard Bullock
Music: Niall Byrne
Costume designer: Camille Benda
Editor: Martin Brinkler
Sales: Icon Entertainment International
No rating, 100 minutes
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