True Things is only the second feature from Harry Wootliff, a writer-director fascinated with relationships. And after the slow-burning torture of Only You, she follows up with another rocky road leading to who knows where.
Again it’s a two-hander, again the performances are sensational. In Only You Laia Costa and Josh O’Connor were the couple negotiating parenthood (adulthood, actually). Here, it’s Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke at a much earlier stage of a relationship. That’s if this is a relationship at all, which is kind of what the film is about.
Wilson plays Kate Perkin, a young woman with a shaky work situation, not much in the way of a social life, a slightly distant relationship with her family, who one day is smitten, instantly, by one of her clients, an ex jailbird she’s probably meant to be helping in some way (it’s not entirely clear what Kate does, but it looks like she works in government employment service of some sort).
Blond, as he’s called, on account of his badly dyed blond hair, is debonair (in a low-rent way), intense, lusty, impetuous and fun. Kate falls for him the moment he cheekily asks her what she’s doing for lunch, so much so that later the same day she’s having bunk-up sex with him in the multi-storey car park next to work.
And then… a relationship… of sorts. After a couple of idyllic boy-meets-girl moments (skinnydipping etc) things start to go a bit weird for Kate, who wants more of Blond than he seems prepared to give. And the more she wants it, the less he’s there to give it. As she advances, he recedes. Not phoning for days. Disappearing. Borrowing her car and not bringing it back for a week. A strange game of cat and mouse seems to be developing, though we see all this only from one side – Kate’s – and the suspicion begins to grow that Blond might be more than a person in his own right. He might also be a manifestation of everything that’s wrong with Kate’s life. In short, her inability to take control of it – emotionally, financially, organisationally. Kate doesn’t even have food in the house. Her parents despair of her ever finding a man.
If relationship dramas are not your thing, the treat-em-mean-keep-em-keenTrue Things might convince you otherwise. Ruth Wilson’s performance is a large part of it. While Kate is a car crash and the entire film is really about whether she’s going to grow a pair of balls, Wilson makes her also entirely sympathetic. Kate is the entire pivot of a film weaving together emotion (her feelings for him) and jeopardy (our feelings for her), and Wootliff’s camera is right on Wilson the whole time, up close, many details on the periphery out of focus while Kate herself shifts into and out of frame. As time goes on Wootliff starts to introduce other elements – a touch of magical realism, a vivid nightmare recreated – which, added to the intensely subjective camera, build a picture of a psyche in distress.
An almost subliminal score by Alex Baranowski adds to the sense of things slipping into and out of view. Sometimes the music – often elegantly discordant – can barely be heard. At other times it swells momentarily, like a wave of emotion.
Tom Burke is one of those “can do no wrong” actors of the moment, much as Josh O’Connor was in Only You, and again, like O’Connor, this is not really about his character. Blond is a cipher, though Burke loads him up with swagger and charm, and always somewhere a hint of a threat.
Does Kate get her groove back? Is Blond’s invitation for her to go to his sister’s wedding with him in Spain a new beginning for the pair of them, or just for her? What starts out looking like an exploration of the headiness of love and lust, when endorphins swamp the body, turns into a forensic examination of a person in a slo-mo crisis. Watching it happen has a through the fingers quality. You can’t take your eyes off it.
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