Tribeca Film Festival 2011
By Don Simpson | April 27, 2011
Director: Alexandra McGuinness
Writers: Alexandra McGuinness, Brendan Grant
Starring: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Johnny Flynn, Benn Northover, Cynthia Fortune Ryan
In Greek mythology, the lotus-eaters are a race of people from an island near North Africa where narcotic lotus fruits and flowers are the primary food and the inhabitants sleep in peaceful apathy. Odysseus tells us about the lotus-eaters in Odyssey IX, as does Lord Tennyson (in his poem “The Lotos-Eaters”) and James Joyce (in the fifth chapter of Ulysses).
Writer-director Alexandra McGuinness (the daughter of Paul McGuinness, U2’s manager) reveals the modern equivalent of the mythological lotus-eaters: an elite group of 20-something Londoners whose soulless lives consist merely of apathetically shooing away boredom with a 24-hour party of booze, drugs and sex. Money and gainful employment seem to be of no concern for them; their impeccable fashion sense, idyllically good looks and bourgeois pedigree are their tickets to ride. They are obsessed with finding the secret to eternal youth: Is it rolfing or transcendental meditation…or can it be found in a high-end boutique in the form of a lotion or spray?
Lotus Eaters follows Alice (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), a beautiful young model with ambitions of turning into an actress. (She senses that she has become too old for modeling.) Her equally beautiful ex-lover Charlie (Johnny Flynn) is an unabashed heroin addict to whom Alice is magnetically attracted. (Not all that dissimilar to Requiem for a Dream, even the addicts are beautiful in Lotus Eaters.) As it turns out, everyone wants to get a piece of Alice but no one will ever possess her; this includes Felix (Benn Northover) — despite the tantrums of his childishly manic and possessive girlfriend, Suzi (Amber Anderson) — and the chlamydia-infested Marlon (Alex Wyndham). The eldest member of the group, Orna (Cynthia Fortune Ryan), seems strangely interested in being Alice’s matchmaker…or, better yet, puppet-master.
McGuinness’ gorgeously photographed (by cinematographer Gareth Munden) black and white film is doomed to be called pretentious, stunted and over-stylized; but I see it as a Whit Stillman-by-way-of-Sofia Coppola-esque critique of the guiltless over-indulgence of London’s bourgeois 20-somethings. Despite their bottomless trust fund accounts, the characters are rudderless and lost (perfectly realized during their drunken game of hide & seek). It seems as though the most difficult decision they must face is whether to go on holiday or to go to the Glastonbury festival. The group’s hedonistic lifestyle is somewhat alluring, yet it is obviously an accident waiting to happen. The characters — including our main protagonist, Alice — behave quite unsympathetically; they do not even treat each other nicely, prompting us to question whether or not they should even be considered friends? It is as if they are inexplicably forced to coexist as a group in a limbo-like prison of gluttonous extravagance.
Featuring live performances by Little Death and O Children, the British indie rock soundtrack plays like my own dream mixtape. It would be a crying shame if the soundtrack is never officially released; but, in that case, I will certainly track down the individual songs and create my own compilation.