IFFR 2017 review – LIGHT THEREAFTER (Konstantin Bojanov, 2017, Bulgaria, Belgium)

lightthereafterposterKonstantin Bojanov’s latest film, Light Thereafter, is a coming-of-age drama about an autistic 16-year-old artist, Pavel (Barry Keoghan) who travels from London to France to meet his hero, the famous painter Arnaud (Kim Bodnia).

The film moves backwards through a series of chapters. It begins with Pavel being thrown out of Arnaud’s house for refusing to paint a nude model. The potential for a Whiplash copycat storyline is ditched in favour of a road movie (or anti road movie, given its structure) that follows Pavel’s journey on foot from London to France. It becomes, therefore, less about the destination and more about the journey, and the many encounters Pavel makes along the way. In fact, the journey structure becomes, through its form, an allegory for his coming-of-age process.

Although Pavel is autistic, this aspect of the story is never overplayed. He seems eager and brave, ready to face any challenge he meets along the way. In fact, it serves more as an aspect that allows Pavel to distance himself from his environment. His relationship with the world is different. In many ways, it recalls the old cliché of the artist who looks at everything around him through a different perspective. But on a more intimate level, this aspect allows Pavel’s presence, and his appearance in the lives of the other people he encounters throughout his journey, mysterious, innocent and pure. The threat, in the movie, is precisely this: everything around him may threaten his innocence in purity.

Bojanov himself told me that this film is semi-autobiographical. He himself is a practicing artist. Despite this, the film offers nothing new to the movie that explores the character of the artist and even resorts to the odd cliché. The most interesting aspect of the film is its passive and yet meaningful examination of the different cultural contexts that are explored in the film. It is not only in its mixture of nationalities of the movie, and the different geographical locations that Pavel passes though – it is also age, sexuality, family structures and so on.

Yet, the apparent gaps and inconsistencies of the plot, Light Thereafter is held together by a polished outlook in the cinematography of Nenad Boroevich, empathetic at times with the central character of the narrative, his childlike excitement and innocence, his sensuality and his uniqueness. Keoghan as Pavel is equally worthy of praise. A difficult role, with plenty of possibility for dramatic overstatement, the young actor is well able to balance the physicality required by his role and a certain quietness that allows for a more intimate interaction with the viewer. – ★★★

LIGHT THEREAFTER || 2017, Bulgaria / Belgium || Drama || Directed by – Konstantin Bojanov / Written by – Konstantin Bojanov / Produced by – Konstantin Bojanov, Mike Downey, John Engel, Sam Taylor, Mila Vonikova, Gregory Zalcman / Music by – Michelino Bisceglia / Cinematography – Nenad Boroevich / Editing by – Anja Siemens / Starring – Barry Keoghan, Kim Bodnia, Thure Lindhart / Running time: 102 mins.

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