I first encountered Albatross a while back through some gentle murmurs and whispers online. However little information was available, and with no chance of a trailer the film was relegated to the back of my mind until further notice.
So when it came to the hungry, violent, page-turning motion of the first flick-through of the Edinburgh Film Festival Programme, much happiness ensued when I discovered that it was included in the line-up.
There are many reasons for my unmitigated joy at the inclusion of such a film, mostly being that it satisfies all my indie urges and surely encapsulates everything I like in a film; a sort of indie-by-numbers if you will.
However, as much as I expected to like the film because of all these factors, I didn’t have high expectations that it would break any new ground or offer a new perspective on the coming-of-age genre. As such, I was more than happy to connect the dots and religiously tick of various boxes as the film progressed: Pretty, out of season seaside setting (check); mismatched-kooky wardrobe (check), dysfunctional family (check); confusing name which may be relevant to the plot but which is often a red herring (check), and so on.
Despite these indies clichés, I was pleasantly surprised by the mysterious film which was but an echo in the darkened corridors of the internet mere months earlier.
The film centres around a family who live in and run a guesthouse in a picturesque town on the English coast. They are not a particularly happy family unit and are each facing their own unique battles.
The father, Jonathan, played by Sebastian Koch is suffering from ‘second novel syndrome’ and locks himself in the attic on a daily basis in a bid to match the success of his first novel, The Cliff House.
The mother pretty much plays the role of the bad guy, stripping Koch’s character of any masculinity and putting all her efforts into her youngest daughters dreams of performing and blatantly living vicariously through her.
Beth, the eldest daughter has taken the same action as her Father and imprisoned herself in her room using the excuse of revising in order to opt out of the crazy and furthermore to seal the deal of a one way ticket out of the snoozefest of a town.
We are treated to some glorious exchanges pre-Emilia in order to set the scene and familiarise the audience with the dysfunctional nature of the family and to properly realise the impact upon which Emilia has on the them later in the film.
Emilia arrives at the guesthouse as the new cleaner and quickly establishes herself as force to be reckoned with. She manages to breathe life into a house which has acted as an escape for so many over the years but which ultimately has become a prison for Beth and her family.
The arrival of Emilia shakes things up and she soon serves as many roles to the family. She is a muse and object of affection for Jonathan; a rival and constant thorn in Beth’s mothers side; and an inspiration which forces Beth to rouse from her dormant state and squeeze every last drop out of her life, in contrast to putting everything on hold and waiting for the freedom of University.
Emilia’s name is quickly hallowed in the Cliff House, much to the joy of Beth’s mother which fuels Emilia onwards in her quest to irk and get a reaction.
As with most kooky-indie-girl characters there is a danger of them being one-dimensional and with little depth merely acting as the protagonists plaything and rarely showing any real emotion.
Albatross, however is executed in a way which allows the character of Emilia to show her vulnerable side and lets the audience into her world which is not the hedonistic, 24-hour party which people may have expected. Instead she is nursing some serious pain whilst providing care for her frail Grandparents.
This glimpse into Emilia’s world shows her humanity and soft nature which is kept hidden from the outside world shielded by a guise of sharp wit and sass and furthermore explains her spontaneous and impulsive nature.
The successful execution of producing a thoroughly interesting and complex character is down to some clever and accomplished writing from Tamzin Rafn. However, Jessica Findley-Brown also earns some major kudos for playing Emilia with such heart; endearing her to the audience despite her obvious flaws and the illustrious affair she has embarked upon with Jonathan.
Albatross is a sharp and witty coming-of-age indie dramady which is perfectly pitched and deals with the familiar issue of growing up and letting go. Although the ambiguous title Albatross may be seen as a familiar indie trope of utilising a random word in order to pique interest (cf. Submarine, The Squid and the Whale, etc.). It is in fact perfect for the story and is applicable to all the characters in the film.
The guest house which the family inhabit is a constant source of strife and the resentment and the claustrophobia that comes from living in such pretty, albeit debilitating surroundings, literally oozes from the screen.
The message of the film is clear, we must forge forward in search of new stories and adventures rather than resting on our laurels playing the same scenarios over and over again. We all have our own personal ‘Albatross’ but unless we let go we run the risk of being imprisoned in our own metaphorical ‘Cliff House’.