I have to admit to approaching Richard Ayoade’s debut feature film, Submarine, with some apprehension.
Here is a film adapted and directed by one of my favourite small screen presences that has obvious echoes of the French new wave. it features a beautifully melancholic soundtrack by Alex Turner that I have had on repeat for the past few months.
The trailer looks more than promising and is rather wonderfully set to a melodramatic chanson by Belgian Crooner, Jacques Brel. Let’s face it, with these factors setting such high expectations, there is a lot of room to be disappointed.
Thankfully, the only aspect of Submarine that I found lacking was that a Jacques Brel song was not actually played in the film. Hardly worth complaining about, really.
From the opening credits, the influence of Jean-Luc Godard is immediately apparent in the style of the font and the composition of the title; however, the poetic touches of François Truffaut are also evident (there is a shot that is almost an exact replica of one in The Four Hundred Blows).
The intertextual references flow throughout the remainder of the film and are realised in the structure, aural environment and cinematography. Although Submarine is so visually gorgeous and self-conscious of its status as a film that it can be a bit over-whelming at times, it actually works perfectly with the precociousness and self-absorption of the protagonist, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), who often imagines his life as the plot of a film (as I am sure many of us did when we were teenagers).
Into this “film” walks Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige) and her blossoming relationship with Oliver and his rampant teenage hormones are juxtaposed to the seemingly stale marriage of his parents (Noah taylor and Sally Hawkins). Appropriating new wave self-reflexivity, Oliver and Jasmin’s first romantic dalliance is portrayed in a nostalgically styled sequence that cleverly brings together theme and style.
It could all come across as quite teen angst and pretentious but, in Ayoade’s hands, it is simultaneously bittersweet and hilarious. In fact, there were a number of times in the full capacity screening that I couldn’t hear the dialogue because the audience was still laughing at the previous line.
I really loved Submarine because it appealed to two different sides of my film viewing personality. On one level, it was a well scripted and brilliantly delivered story that was thoroughly entertaining.
On another level, the film geek inside me, who completely fetishises new wave cinema and film aesthetics, was delighted by the references that were threaded through the film. Ayoade’s approach to filmic storytelling is extremely sophisticated; however, he doesn’t lose sight of his characters’ emotions, instilling the film with a strong sense of heart and compassion.
Thank you, Mr. Ayoade, for not disappointing me.