Sunday 23 June 2024

Raindance 2024: The Heirloom

Having had its world premiere at this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam—where it took its place alongside the likes of Jonathan Glazer's Oscar-winning The Zone of Interest, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's horror The Soul Eater, Kaouther Ben Hania's documentary Four Daughters, and Sean Durkin's biopic The Iron Claw—Ben Petrie's The Heirloom plays at the Raindance Film Festival tomorrow, when it screens at London's Prince Charles Cinema.  In terms of the festival's prizes, The Heirloom has been nominated in the same categories as Dorka Vermes' Árni, with both films up for Best Debut Director, Best Performance in a Debut, and the Discovery Award for Best Debut Feature.    

Prior to The Heirloom, Ben Petrie had made half a dozen shorts, the most recent of which is also the best known: Her Friend Adam (see trailer below).  Heavily reliant on a DIY aesthetic, Petrie's feature debut feels like a very natural progression from his short film work.  In The Heirloom, the director himself stars as Eric, a filmmaker labouring over a script he started some years earlier.  As in Her Friend Adam, the writer-director's real-life partner Grace Glowicki plays Petrie's character's companion, and as Eric toils over his screenplay, Glowicki's Allie is desperate to get a rescue dog.  Eric has some misgivings about such an endeavour but eventually agrees, and the wheels are set in motion.

With lockdown looming, the race is on to secure a dog before the pandemic makes such a transaction impossible, and Allie and Eric arrange to rehome Milly, a whippet from the Dominican Republic.  Given the restrictions that are in place on account of COVID, Allie and Eric need to collect Milly directly from the airport; cue a vaguely threatening nocturnal scene in which the couple meet their new pet on the wintry tarmac.  Once this tense sequence passes, Milly is taken to Eric and Allie's home and, as you might expect, it takes some time for her to get used to these new surroundings.  Milly is a sweet girl, but one lacking in confidence, and Allie and Eric work steadily to integrate the dog into their lives. 

As Milly becomes established in the couple's home, Eric—who now firmly states his desire to achieve a work-life balance—abandons his moribund screenplay in favour of making a film about the couple's relationship with their pet.  From this point on, The Heirloom turns into a most slippery metafiction, one in which we're never entirely sure if what we're watching is simply the film, or the film within that film.  There are a few clues here and there—a stray boom mic, multiple takes of Allie reacting to Milly urinating on the floor, the diegetic noise of a drone engine as it films an overhead shot—but it says much about Ben Petrie's filmmaking that The Heirloom works so fluidly.  The screening will be followed by a Q&A.

Darren Arnold

Images: IFFR