When I first started writing about this film, I was less than impressed, now I'm changing my mind because the more you think about it, the more fascinating it becomes.
I ordered this film because I am a huge fan of the films of Wong Kar Wai and of Christopher Doyle's fabulous cinematography. Mr. Doyle is both writer and director of this film and about the result I am decidedly equivocal - which pretty much sums up how the film works - or doesn't, depending how you look at it. If you haven't seen any of Wong Kar Wai's films featuring the stunning cinematography of Christopher Doyle, this is probably not at all a good place to start.
Note that the title is `Away With Words' not `A Way With Words'. This is significant because memory does very odd things with words, they are not done away with but re-defined. The dialogue is a mixture of Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese and English. Some of the characters mumble dreadfully, so it would have been useful to have full subtitles available, rather than only for the non-English spoken parts.
Every night Kevin is falling down unconscious drunk and in trouble with the local police, though usually not too much trouble, as he has all their phone numbers in his notebook! He somehow even manages to get two of the policewomen to carry him home.
Every day, Asano thinks of the sea. It is a magnet to him, a place he returns to as a boy and as an adult. The film is drenched in sea blue saturated colour.
Scenes with Asano are very Wong Kar Wai (despite his absence, see below). Asano tries to explain how words and sounds mean very different things to him and that his mind is overburdened with memories.
Scenes with gay Australian Kevin are contrastingly documentary in style, often as if he's being interviewed. This guy is oddly unconvincing as the owner of a bar in Hong Kong and appears to be pushed around or ignored by almost all but Asano and Susie, who are sympathetic towards him and each other. Susie is the only one who has any human warmth about her. Asano and Kevin, are lost: Asano in too many memories, Kevin in too few. It is jarring when Asano and Kevin are in the same scene together because previous scenes have been filmed so differently for each of them.
This film is about memory. Notes to self are a recurrent theme, usually these notes have something to do with water, for example they frequently are found floating in it, they are written on a steamy window, they are seen through heavy condensation on a window, or stuck to a wet window. Water, water everywhere and very little of it drunk, unless it happens to be an inseparable part of an alcoholic beverage.
It shows how essential memory is to giving meaning to the present and in making the future less invisible.
(i) Right at the beginning of the film, light levels jump from light to dark and back in rapid but irregular sequence. The flickering light bulb of faulty memory, perhaps.
(ii) Recent memories are shot in harsh, over-exposed colour.
(iii) Blue filters are used extensively and it is only in one short scene that we see that the upholstery in the nightclub is in fact red!
(iv) The past and more distant memories are filmed in a mixture of very grainy, pastel, hand held, wobbly sometimes out of focus shots, many of the scenes with the camera low down, as if a child is holding it (the child as Asano remembers himself).
Odd Stuff: The guitarist/singer who gargles the words to her song. In one or two scenes Susie wears a skirt which appears to be made of hair. The door chime sounds like a strangled kookaburra bird call, which I assume helps to remind Kevin of his origins.
At the very end of chapter 11 (the `end' credits), Christopher Doyle lists those to whom he would like to give special thanks. These include:
"Wong Kar Wai, "for staying away"
It's not society's fault
It's brother Denis who made me hate Latin,
Miss Lin and her Chinese poesy, A. R. Luria,
Cartazar and Borges, Dada,
Surrealist word games, automatic writing,
and the occasional glass or two...
but it's mainly Kevin Sherlock's fault
for getting us all into this mess.
Thanks Kevin for this film.
Beer is life!"
(Wikipedia tells us that: "Chris Doyle's auteur film Away with words is largely inspired by Luria's The Mind of a Mnemonist.")
Do not be tempted to skip the credits (chapter 11), or you'll miss the above-quoted gems and the entire last chapter. Chapter 12 begins as if the film has looped back to the beginning but it hasn't. Here the cast have some fun and you will be treated to pensioner-rap:
"...It's like a jungle sometimes
it makes me wonder
how I keep from going under..."
Needless to say Kevin forgets something important.
Unusually for an Artificial Eye film, there are no special feature extras at all - not even a film credits list for Christopher Doyle.
This film is very definitely about dislocation. It breaks with convention, breaks down convention, both cimematic and narrative; is self-indulgent; and appears entirely haphazard, but then, as Christopher Doyle himself implies, beer was involved...