Article by: Lorenzo Trombi
Translation by: Roberto Gelli
The movie is the screen adaptation of the novel High Rise, written by James Graham Ballard. Jeremy Thomas, winner of the Academy Award, had been interested for year in making a film from Ballard’s novel but he only succeeded in producing it in 2014.
After showing a preview of High Rise at Toronto International Film Festival, the film was presented at San Sebastián International Film Festival and now it arrives at TFF within Festa Mobile section, reserved to non-competing films and unreleased films in Italy, which represent the best international movie production.
The movie is rich in rather interesting visual solutions such as the different kinds of oppressive verticality related to the skyscraper itself, where the story takes place. These are well conveyed by oblique and sloping framing or by the protagonist movements surrounded by the lift’s mirror but the film is not able to completely overcome the difficulties to cinematographically render situations and atmospheres implied in Ballard’s novel, in which we find different levels.
The screen challenge was perhaps to shape that metaphor of modern society, where everyone has the same role of tormentor and victim. The represented microcosm is located in a skyscraper, which offers every kind of thing people may need.
Most of the characters never leave the building except for the new surgeon, the protagonist Robert Laing, who in the first part of the film goes out to work. But in the end, after the tumultuous events have ceased, we will see him starting his professional activity within the skyscraper.
Often, the residents are referred to by mentioning their room numbers, as it happens in the dialogue between Laing and the architect during the squash match. This is clearly a sort of obsessive depersonalization.
Let’s step back and have a look at the plot. It all starts with the new surgeon moving in a luxury flat in the skyscraper. It won’t be long till he realizes the social distribution taking place throughout the building: the poorer classes live downstairs while wealthy people stay upstairs. The architect even invites him to visit his extra luxury attic but Laing looks indifferent and he only seems to be interested in seducing women.
During a blackout things become chaotic and everyone starts to understand that the more they go upstairs, the better they feel. This “physical” rise corresponds to a “moral” transformation: the majority of them become greed and fight with one another. One of the main female characters explains to her husband her sense of suffocation and tells him that she would like to enjoy the same light that those in the upper floors have at their disposal. Documentary filmmaker Richard Wilder heads the uprising with the aim of killing the architect.
In the last scenes we hear a speech saying that capitalism will never allow political liberty.
However, the film mood is oppressed by a script, which sometimes aims to be overfilled with facts and dynamics. The characters take themselves too much seriously and there is a lack of whatever possible temporary break out and lightness, which could reduce its general claustrophobia. Almost all of the film is made of internal shooting.
There are a lot of narrative premises in the movie but their developments lead too much towards a dead end track.
For sure, High Rise is worth seeing again, in order to ponder its content.