REVIEW: Saint Maud (Glasgow Film Festival 2020)
The Body Is A Stage. A tempting title of a book resting on the tightly compiled shelf of its resigned no longer so elegant dancer of the piece. In a frightful time where the so-called higher powers are merely out for themselves, many a person is feeling left behind and contemplating their own mortality in towns and cities aplenty, wrestling with the prospect of not being worthy of a greater cause in order to have all eyes on them.
The cloudy outlook accentuating the gloom engulfing the places, they call home. Your time precious. Your generosity bordering on angelic. But with little to no return, is the devil inside of you bubbling away, just clamouring for an opportunity to rise to the surface?
Rose Glass’ truly wicked directorial debut channels this through the reclusive and potentially naïve young vessel that is Morfydd Clark’s Maud. Exhausted by the drab (at least in her eyes!) trappings of Scarborough, her staunch newfound faith is mirrored by her insatiable appetite to aid people in their most desperate time, working as a private carer.
Remaining plagued by past personal demons that still threaten to leap out. The prospect is only heightened by her infatuation with current patient and one-time choreographer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), who is desperate to wring out every last drop of life on her own terms, in the wake of her stage 4 lymphoma diagnosis. For Maud, she identifies this as the perfect scenario to prove her worth to God despite her admittance to loathing the self-indulgence of ‘creative types’. Almost a stepping stone to a better place, a different proposition for Amanda however, who is frightfully keen to fuel the fire and challenge any lingering doubts in Maud’s sudden devotion to her religion.
Rooted in its authentic depiction of social depravation, there is a potency to the mental warfare that swarms almost every scene of Rose Glass’ film that shakes you to your core. Maud, who preaches forgiveness and loving all among us, can barely forgive herself for one incident and is swift in being critical of Amanda’s lifestyle choices. Amanda the dancer, whose elegance once bewitched, now barely able to manage any flicker of human emotion as she mourns Maud’s ‘wasting’ of her youth.
It all helps to craft this dazzling dance with the devils within such details, that is delectable in its dark humour and daring in its narrative shifts. Its chosen art form a fitting metaphor for how Maud’s truth has been contorted, externalising every dark thought forming in her fragile mind, that perhaps many a viewer could begrudgingly relate to in times of hardship. Would God really be surveying the scene, smirking at her misfortune of feeling unemployable? Unoccupied?
The choice of Scarborough for its compelling setup is inspired. A seaside town where its titular character is undoubtedly lost at sea, drowning in the pool of insignificance where she would rather play God, than the wealth of arcade machines peppering the backdrop. Swirling of clouds mirroring the shrouding of one’s judgment, it all serves to reflect the grey areas in which Maud’s moral compass slowly starts to operate within. Her wild female desires increasingly unholy through the prism of religion, with the horrors of her mind filtering into her figure movements.
This is certainly perpetuated by the liberated Amanda, deliciously played by Jennifer Ehle whose initial respect for Maud’s commitment to her cause soon subsides into a brutal condemnation of how narrow-minded Maud may really be amidst her own lavish antics. From the first frame, you can instantly draw a sense of longing and isolation from Morfydd Clark’s Maud, that leaves you as a viewer with a deep feeling of unease. A thirst to prolong the life of another but far from famished in continuing her own. Clark’s nerve-shredding ascension from the depths of despair is mesmeric with her final salvo proving simply spectacular.
It may revel in the hellish, but as a visceral offering of body and psychological trauma, Rose Glass’ Saint Maud is sheer horror heaven.
Directed by: Rose Glass
Written by: Rose Glass
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight