Written & Directed by Nicholas Ashe Bateman
Ambition is an important attribute in any human endeavor. If you pursue any passion in life, always do it with ambition. It’s an essential characteristic for successful people and helps drive home the task and does so with an added level of creativity and certainty. Even if you fail, to do so because of passion and ambition combined is to do it right, get something out of it. As with filmmaking, what is the point if it’s not done with passion and ambition? Nicholas Ashe Bateman, the director of The Wanting Mare is new on the scene, with just a few non-directing credits, but to see his new film, it’s clear he has a unique and assured vision of the story he wants to communicate to his audience. It’s delivered with a bravura and confidence not often seen from first time directors. However, just because something shows promise, passion and ambition, does that necessarily mean that it worked, that it’s a good film? Well, I’m not entirely sure with The Wanting Mare, but perhaps with a first time director, it doesn’t really matter?
In a subtle sci-fi future, Moira (Jordan Monaghan) is one in a line of women in Whithren who pass a recurring dream down generation to generation. The dream haunts them, as it occurs each night, so Moira tries to stay awake each night. In Whithern, they export horses once a year to the continent across the sea, Levithen, which is in a constant state of winter. Along with this crossing, the ship will also take any passenger who has a ticket. But as Whithern is a hot, hellish landscape, the tickets are highly coveted, and highly valuable. Moira desires one of these tickets, but as her life passes, the desire becomes more and more fleeting, as the reality of living life in Whithern seems more and more inevitable as she encounters Lawrence (Nicholas Ashe Bateman), Hadeon (Edmond Cofie) and the seedy underbelly of trying to acquire a highly coveted ticket.
Phew, to be honest that was one of the hardest plot synopses I have ever had to write. Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s film feels like it keeps the viewer at such an arm’s length that to know and follow all the details is truly difficult. He creates a world that is truly unique and expressive, but fails to provide enough details to fully color it. In many ways, it feels like a student film where the author knows everything about this world and its inner workings that I’m sure it’s a fascinating narrative, but not enough clues and facts are included in the story to inform the audience to the level of knowledge held by the author. That is to say, way too many things are assumed when they shouldn’t be, creating a narrative that is too quiet and bizarre to properly follow. But damn if this isn’t a truly interesting film to behold. I think it’s lack of narrative exposition is maybe the only thing holding this back from being a great debut achievement.
The narrative flows from Moira as a young woman, to her as an older woman, without much explanation or direction. The viewer must orient himself quickly or risk becoming lost in the story, as I was more than once. It strikes the question, would this be more effective on a re-watch, with the intricacies of the narrative better known, such that the viewer could see them coming and follow more closely. There are a lot of moments throughout the film that go unexplained except through visuals. An action with no words. An interaction with no words. Bateman takes us on this journey, trusting us fully to keep up. Perhaps he shouldn’t have, but regardless, it creates an exciting journey that keeps you on your toes throughout. It can also be a frustrating experience, to keep up with the characters, the dealings, the changing timeline and subtleties left unexplained. It is a delicate balance between trusting the audience completely, and holding their hand through the story you wish to tell. I’m not sure Bateman does nearly enough hand holding, but in some ways I suppose it’s better than doing it too much.
The cinematography is beautiful and immersive. The special effects, while clearly not high dollar, are utilized in a subtle, effective way, which creates the dystopian future world. Nicholas Ashe Bateman clearly holds a very confident grasp of his film. The problem I can’t quite solve is whether the problem with the film is that Bateman’s ambition uncovers a lack of talent for filmmaking, or a lack of resources on such a low budget film where he is forced to wear many production hats. Either way, it makes for a pretty exciting debut I thought. So the question becomes, if given more resources, and perhaps a producer who is able to reign him in in the right areas and sort of polish the product, can Nicholas Ashe Bateman be the next filmmaking star? The signs are certainly there in this exciting debut, even if the finished product shows its warts and shortcomings. What will come next for Bateman? I’m ready to give this exciting storyteller another shot, but if he crashes and burns, maybe the ambition outweighed the talent all along, but I’m not ready to answer that question yet.