The Death and Life of Otto Bloom – movie review

The curious case of Otto Bloom? The rather quirky The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, which opened the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2016, seems like a local variation on David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the story of a man living his life in reverse. But unlike F Scott Fitzgerald’s creation, who was born old and slowly grew younger, the enigmatic eponymous Otto believes that he is actually moving back in time. Thus he remember everything before it happens to him but then he forgets about it after they happen.

The film is driven by a rather strange and bold premise that does your head in, and it requires a healthy suspension of disbelief. I found it troubling, and not very convincing, and its unorthodox structure a little confusing. Unlike with Benjamin’s situation there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to Otto’s dilemma, not real sense of his approaching mortality.

This is the debut feature for writer/director Chris Jones, who has previously made three short films. The film unfolds in nonlinear fashion. Jones has shot the film in the style of a faux documentary with lots of dramatic re-enactments, archival footage and different film stock, and plenty of talking head interviewees recounting their experiences of meeting and dealing with Otto. Chief amongst them is Ada (Rachel Ward), a psychiatrist who first encountered Otto after he was admitted to hospital seemingly suffering from amnesia, and who later had an intimate relationship with him.

Otto is played in rather stilted fashion by the handsome and charismatic Xavier Samuel, who we recently saw in a couple of local bogan comedies like Spin Out and A Few Less Men, but he doesn’t give us much insight into the character. Whereas Benjamin Button used some great makeup effects to convincingly age Brad Pitt, no such tricks are required here as Otto doesn’t really change his appearance. Otto’s love interest Ada is played at different stages of her life by Ward and her real-life daughter Matilda Brown.

This is a technically ambitious film as it required cinematographer Laszlo Baranyai (Downriver) to work in diverse range of media formats, including Super 8 and digital, to try and lend authenticity to the different time periods covered and to make it seem believable. Editor Bill Murphy (Mary And Max) has also done a great job in moving back and forwards through the various time frames. However, at times the format creates a distance between the audience and the subject making it hard to develop any sense of empathy for him.

The Death and Life of Otto Bloom is an ambitious and intriguing failure, but Jones has stamped himself as a director with a wonderful imagination and command of film language.

Director: Cris Jones
Cast: Xavier Samuel, Matilda Brown, Rachel Ward
Release Date: 16 March 2017
Rating: M

Greg King

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