A film by Valerie Buhagiar

The Anniversary

What do you do with a middle-aged runaway?

UK Review: "a successful and heartfelt film about love"

The Anniversary East London Film Festival screening has already earned it some glowing reviews, including this one from Hayley Charlesworth at I'm With Geek:

Screening at the East End Film Festival, The Anniversary, a Canadian production written and directed by Valerie Buhagiar is a film with a definite indie sensibility. It is also a film with a strong emotional centre, built on with superb acting, and a fundamental understanding of human relationships. Traversing both joy and heartbreak in the space of a single night, The Anniversary is an investing, but claustrophobic piece.

On the day of their twentieth wedding anniversary, Teresa’s husband Sam goes out for a run and does not return. A year later, an increasingly unstable Teresa hosts the dinner party that was supposed to take place that night, with her somewhat bigoted mother, secretive son, Sam’s lesbian colleague and French mistress in attendance, along with Carl, who is getting over heartbreak of his own and is increasingly smitten with Teresa. Through a night of tears, laughter, and hallucinogens, Teresa and those in her orbit finally start to heal and move forward.

The greatest strength of The Anniversary is the central performances of the two leads, Deborah Hay as Teresa, and Whose Line Is It Anyway’s Colin Mochrie as Carl. Hay in particular brings a relatable vulnerability to her performance that makes Teresa so much more than the crazy gilted woman, and Mochrie’s inherent likability shines off the screen in his every scene. But every actor in this small cast is excellent, and the chemistry between the group is constantly engaging.

One would expect a film starring Colin Mochrie to be heavy on the comedy, as that is his strength. This is not the case in The Anniversary. While comedy is certainly present, and Mochrie is often the catalyst for it, the laughs come from a dark place. The humour in the film is used to juxtapose the heartbreak, and does not begin to make its presence known until much time has passed and the healing process has begun. The comedy is also not of a farcical nature, but a realistic depiction of a dinner party getting out of hand. Every scene in the film, whether hilarious or tragic, crucially comes from a very real place.

Director Buhagiar confines the entire film, except for a single closing scene, to Teresa’s home, with each frame claustrophobic and cramped, and Teresa’s black-painted kitchen combined with the harsh Canadian winter casting a dull glow over every scene, although the scenes brighten as morning approaches and the tone lightens. The Anniversary does have the definite feel of an “indie” picture, however, mostly due to the use of music. There are two types of music heard in the film: son Nicky’s apocalyptic dubstep, and bass-heavy jazz music that forms the film’s non-diegetic soundtrack. It is the latter that feels stereo-typically indie, but that is not a criticism, as it serves the atmosphere of the dinner party very well. However, some audiences who are resistant to these sorts of character pieces may find the soundtrack increasingly grating.

The Anniversary is a successful and heartfelt film about love in its various forms, from devastation, desire, unrequited love, and the loving support of family and friends, even if that is sometimes tested (for a lighter exploration of that last one, Teresa’s mother’s conversations with Nicky and Anne are a highlight) while choosing a single location allows the characters an opportunity to grow. It is a delightful piece, overall, with a definite soul behind it.