INTUITIVE, baffling or thought provoking? Rebecca Di Nuzzo reviews award winning Australian film director Aaron Wilson’s first feature length film, Canopy.
‘Confused’ and ‘disoriented’ are two words that spring to mind when describing Canopy, Australian director Aaron Wilson’s first feature length film.
Set in 1942 Jim – played by Khan Chittenden (Clubland, West and Caterpillar Wish) – is an Australian fighter pilot caught up in the violence of World War II. Shot down from the sky, he regains consciousness amongst the treetops of the Singaporean jungle. Lost in a foreign land and surrounded by the enemy, Jim must navigate this alien bush in search of sanctuary. Completely alone until he literally runs into Singapore-Chinese resistance fighter Seng, (Mo Tzu-Yi, A Place of One’s Own, Snowfall in Taipei and Candy Rain), we soon find the dense foliage plays friend and foe to the two young men, as it conceals Jim and Seng from the enemy but also the enemy from them.
Opening on a dark screen, audiences’ eardrums are regaled with radio music then assaulted with the sounds of gunfire, all while the screen remains blank and viewers sit blind and bewildered. A distinct lack of dialogue also prevails throughout the film, making the story hard to follow at times. For the film’s entire runtime audiences must settle with hand gestures, eye movements and close up shots of facial expressions to discern the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists.
And while this can make the film feel a little slow, its absence has a purpose according to Wilson, who has a keen interest in depicting understated human drama.
“At the time [of developing the film idea] I was talking to a lot of returned service people and there were a lot of stories that interconnected and stood out,” says Wilson.
One of the main themes he says war veterans frequently returned to was the silence and disorientation of being among the enemy in a foreign land.
“Those are the memories that stayed with people years later,” Wilson explains. “I didn’t approach it with the thought there would be a lack of dialogue. It just happened in the nature of telling the story.”
He also adds that his own experience of living abroad in Singapore motivated his interest in creating a film that explored Australia’s connection with it’s neighbours.
The experience of Jim and Seng, two young soldiers from different cultures, reflects the exploration of that relationship in the film. Thrust into an unknown, hostile environment where both man and nature play an ever-present threat, Jim and Seng form a friendship transcending difference and based on one common goal; survival.
“That’s what we do as humans. We make connections,” Wilson says. “You strip away dialogue and background. And no matter who you are, an individual thrust into an unknown world. You have to figure out how to survive.”
That experience is something that is “universal” Wilson says, and it’s something he’s hoping audiences will connect with.
“That is what the great power of cinema is I believe. Distilling an individual’s experience to the universal,” says Wilson. “What family can say they don’t have any experience with war?”
And when taken with this in mind we see the true mastery of what Wilson is attempting to create. As he seeks to immerse viewers in a story that is at once foreign but also broadly applicable to the viewer, despite variances in culture, religion, political orientation or even language.
With all that said and done, it also has to be noted that the frames are beautifully shot. Gorgeous, rich colours and textures prevail throughout the movie and the sound effects are incredible. You really feel as if you’re lost in the jungle, with insects crawling across your skin and the mud sucking at your feet.
Truly a thought provoking first attempt at feature film by Aaron Wilson. It will be interesting to see what projects he comes up with in the future.