Everything We Loved: Berlin Review

Four Knights Film
A debut feature from New Zealand that conjures up a world of pain that allows the protagonists to do things no sane person would ever think of doing.

Max Currie's feature debut stars Brett Stewart and Sia Trokenheim as grieving parents in Auckland who try to start a new life together.

BERLIN -- A grieving father goes to extraordinary -- and extraordinarily illegal -- lengths to regain what has been lost in Everything We Loved, the confident debut feature of New Zealand filmmaker Max Currie.

Though apparently not based on a specific true story, the film, which was also written by the director, is extremely convincing in its depiction of the dark danger zone in which a father finds himself when he can’t cope with a loss that is beyond his comprehension and how, gradually, he drags the late boy’s mother along with him into insanity. With its convincingly drawn characters and, in Brett Stewart and Sia Trokenheim, two actors who can do their complex parts justice, this high-end drama convinces on an emotional level even if, visually, the film is rather traditionally put together.

Everything We Loved should continue a healthy festival run after a world premiere at the recent Palm Springs Film Festival and a subsequent bow at the Berlin festival’s European Film Market, with select theatrical sales a possibility but small-screen success more likely.

Charlie (Stewart) and Angela (Trokenheim) used to tour the country as a magician and his sexy assistant, though the curtain unexpectedly came down both professionally and privately when their young child, Hugo, suddenly died. When the film opens, Charlie is at home but Angela’s gone, though the mourning father is not alone, as he’s looking after and playing with a five-year-old boy, Tommy (Ben Clarkson). Currie’s screenplay initially leaves the relationships between the characters unclear and has the little boy ask rather odd questions, such as "Are you my real daddy?" and "Where is momma?"

A TV report about a missing boy provides the missing puzzle piece and when Angela finally returns to the couple’s home, the extent to which Charlie has strayed becomes clear as it’s obvious their own son died and Tommy’s real parents are elsewhere -- they may be negligent caregivers, as Charlie keeps insisting, but they are alive and have been robbed of their offspring. The first reaction of Angela, who clearly had to leave the house to go through her own grieving process, is one of disbelief and rejection; she can’t be part of Charlie’s insane replacement plan.

The justification for Charlie’s actions are of course located in his grief, as his pain has temporarily undermined his capability for sound moral judgment. Though the film starts after Hugo’s death, the enormity and the power of the parents’ sorrow is made abundantly clear by their decisions and actions, with Angela, perhaps even to her surprise, gradually finding relief in the idea of having a “new Hugo” and the associated sense of comfort and even a glimpse of the good old times increasingly outweighing her objections.

Currie thankfully doesn't overdo the magic metaphors and has believably charted the emotional arcs of his adult leads. Once they’ve both accepted their new reality, and the soothing sensation it affords them, their need to protect their newfound family and calm makes their life increasingly complicated and, paradoxically, agitated, since they can’t be seen in public with a kidnapped child that’s all over the news. To complicate matters even further, they’ve not been able to pay the rent for months and their landlord wants them out within a week.

New Zealand actor Stewart (He Died With A Felafel In His Hand) and Swedish-born Trokenheim (kiwi TV series Step Dave) form a believable couple, unable to face the death of their child alone but probably more dangerous when facing it together. Entirely in step with Currie’s direction, they ensure the story’s grounded in a recognizable emotional reality rather than any kind of tabloid hysteria or sensationalism. Clarkson, whose mother Suzy Clarkson, has a cameo as a news reporter, is a natural child actor who makes Tommy’s initial confusion, his natural curiosity and desire for stability and love at any cost all come alive.

Cinematographer Dave Garbett (Spartacus: Blood and Sand) and editor Dan Kircher use a clever variation on a match cut early on and the film’s color palate becomes bleaker as the family’s situation grows increasingly dire. But otherwise it is the actors that do almost all of the heavy lifting here, conjuring up a world of pain that allows them to do things no sane person would ever think of doing.  

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (market; also in Palm Springs Film Festival)
Production companies: Four Knights Film, Park Road Post, Celluloid Dreams
Cast: Ben Clarkson, Brett Stewart, Sia Trokenheim, Suzy Clarkson
Writer-Director: Max Currie
Producers: Tom Hern, Luke Robinson
Director of photography: Dave Garbett
Production designer: Andy Smith
Music: Tim Prebble
Costume designer: Sarah Aldridge
Editor: Dan Kircher
Sales: Celluloid Dreams
No rating, 100 minutes