by Tom Beasley
The idea of a once nimble mind slipping away has been an obsession of filmmakers in recent years, with Natalie Erika James’s fascinating horror movie Relic and the Oscar-winning drama The Father both immediately joining the pantheon of powerful films about dementia. Andy Kelleher’s debut feature Second Spring is another intriguing journey into a degenerating mind, albeit one which exists in a deliberately quieter register.
It’s occasionally a deeply frustrating watch, eschewing traditional narrative to the extent that its storytelling is often opaque. Kelleher’s movie is a meditative and thoughtful work, shot on film rather than digital in a near-square 1.66:1 ratio. Appropriately given the subject matter, it feels like something half-remembered and wistfully nostalgic – as if it’s attempting to grasp at and cling to a past that is rapidly fading away.
Cathy Naden plays protagonist Kathy – an academic who lectures about archaeological finds and the importance of preserving history to mostly apathetic classes. “Maybe I should do it in the nude,” she quips to a colleague. She’s in a loveless marriage with Tim (Matthew Jure) but pursuing an exciting new romance with canal boat-dwelling free spirit Nick (Jerry Killick). Fading memory and strange brain lapses lead her to get an MRI scan, which reveals tissue shrinkage in the brain – a sign of frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
FTD provides an explanation for the strangeness of Second Spring‘s first act, in which Kathy’s sex drive increases and she makes strange, impulsive decisions – a woodland bender with a stranger leads to her waking up in the street with bruised knees. Naden’s performance is neatly under-played, as if she’s permanently distracted from life by her concerns about the shifting landscape in her own mind. “I’m finding it really hard to think,” she confesses in a late scene, admitting to herself and others that the simple machinations of humanity have started to become a struggle.
Killick, meanwhile, does subtle and impressive work as a man whose outlook on life is that of pure disconnection. He indulges in expensive, classic cars that could conk out at any moment and tends to the plants on the top of his houseboat, as if time is an endless resource. The character’s words suggest contentment, but Killick infuses an undercurrent of frustration – as if he’s a bored, lazy man waiting for something exciting to happen to him. While Kathy initially embodies that for him, he soon tires of her as well, visibly cringing at her more passionate outbursts.
The film’s script, penned by Martin Herron, veers away from ever being a “disease drama” and instead focuses in on Kathy’s relationship with Nick and her love affair with the Kent peninsula on which he grew up. To a history devotee like her, the stark, untarnished beauty of the Hoo Peninsula is something to be treasured and preserved. As Kathy grapples with her own mind being taken from her by illness, she becomes obsessed with the potential theft of the historical landscape by the whispered threats that an airport will soon be built on the land around the estuary.
Second Spring is guilty of meandering somewhat between its various threads, with Herron and Kelleher never keen to pull everything together. There’s a deliciously intimate feel to the storytelling though, helped by Jonas Mortensen’s cinematography, which places the audience right in amongst the chilly isolation Kathy feels as the movie wears on.
The freewheeling attitude to life that once attracted Kathy to Nick begins to alienate and upset her in the movie’s third act, and there’s something of that in the film itself. An inherent lack of direction is part of the movie’s appeal, but it ultimately feels lacking in the sort of incisive emotional power of other recent movies, which have dealt with similar themes in nuanced and deeply cinematic fashion. Second Spring might just be a little too low-key for its own good.
Second Spring is out in cinemas Friday 3rd September