Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Aaron Wilson
Stars: Khan Chittenden, Mo Tzu-yi, Robert Menzies.
For his Movies At Dusk program, Greg spoke to writer/director Aaron Wilson about his new film, the WWII drama Canopy. To listen to the interview click on the link below https://www.mediafire.com/listen/5c8nvj4ypdppafa/190407_002.MP3
Another minimalist story of isolation and survival against the odds (rather like All Is Lost and the visually stunning Gravity), Canopy marks an impressive debut for young Australian filmmaker Aaron Wilson. Canopy is the debut feature for writer/director Wilson, who was largely inspired to make the film after listening to the stories from returned soldiers and veterans who were willing to share their war stories and talk about how their experiences affected them after their return from war. This is a theme that was also explored in the recent The Railway Man.
The setting is Singapore, 1942. A young Australian pilot is shot down and parachutes into the jungle behind enemy lines. At first disoriented, the pilot manages to get his bearings, assemble his meagre survival kit and heads off into the jungle to try and make his way to safety. He tries to avoid capture from Japanese soldiers patrolling the jungle. While making his way through the bush he encounters Seng (Taiwanese actor Mo Tzu-Yi), a Chinese resistance fighter. The two cannot really communicate as they speak different languages, but they are bound by a common need to evade capture and discovery.
This is largely a two-handed drama, like John Boorman’s tough WWII drama Hell In The Pacific which pitted Lee Marvin against Toshiro Mifune in a private war in the jungle. But Canopy is more of an immersive experience that uses an impressive and eerie soundscape designed by Rodney Lowe and Nic Buchanan to heighten the experience, as we hear birds, the rustle of leaves and planes flying overhead throughout the film. We hear the action and nerve-wracking sounds of war in the distance, but rarely see any of it. Even the Japanese soldiers patrolling the jungle are only briefly glimpsed until the climax.
Rather than a full blooded look at the violence and horrors of war though, Canopy is more of an impressionistic take on war and how war changes men, and has more in common with the meditative and existential approach of a Terrence Malick film like The Thin Red Line with its examination of humanity and the fragile links between man and the natural environment. But it also looks gorgeous thanks to the superb cinematography of Stefan Duscio (The Turning, Any Questions For Ben?, etc), which captures the greenery of the landscape and the foreboding canopy covering of the trees that give the film its title. His use of tracking shots and point of view shots effectively shape the film.
Khan Chittenden (from Blue Water High, West, Underbelly, etc) plays Jim, the young pilot, but this is largely a silent role. Without much in the way of dialogue Chittenden effectively conveys his emotions with his expressions, and his fear, his desperation and will to survive are written across his face. It is also a rather physical role for Chittenden as he crawls through muds and thick jungle for most of the film.
Like many young first time filmmakers, Wilson managed to raise much of the financing for Canopy through a crowd funding campaign, which has given him the ability to realise his vision on a limited budget. But he uses the budget and limited resources well to create an evocative and haunting WWII drama.
Nonetheless, the slim premise seems better suited to a short film rather than a feature film and it will divide audiences. While great to look at and ambitious in its structure Canopy is a bit of a drag at times and lacks any real sense of urgency or peril. But Canopy certainly stamps Wilson as an exciting new cinematic talent, and a director to watch in the future.