BLOG Alice Vernon

NWR Issue 110

The Passing/Yr Ymadawiad

On Friday 22 April, I went to see Gareth Bryn’s film The Passing/Yr Ymadawiad in Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s cinema. With connections to TV mystery series Hinterland/Y Gwyll and filmed in the fantastic Ceredigion landscape, The Passing was a phenomenal example of Welsh storytelling. And as a big fan of Hinterland’s bleak aesthetic, I was excited to dive back into that moody atmosphere. It was certainly bleak. It was great.

The film brims with sadness and loss. A quiet, mysterious man called Stanley (Mark Lewis Jones) lives by himself in a secluded cottage in rural Wales. He comes across a car crashed into the riverbank, and rescues an injured young woman and her male companion. Stanley takes Sara (Annes Elwy) and Iwan (Dyfan Dwyfor) back to his home. Once Sara recovers, she and Iwan linger in Stanley’s cottage. Iwan helps Stanley with his gruelling and endless project of building a well, while Sara begins to follow patterns of domesticity. But they each begin to show cracks that widen as the isolation becomes more and more intense. Sara has flashbacks, is disorientated, and seems to be pursued by a shadow she can only see in fleeting glimpses. Iwan becomes a volcano of masculinity – bullying Stanley and picking at the weaknesses in those around him. And Stanley yearns for a connection with Sara, but there’s something not quite right about him.

The strangeness of the film suggested that there was something for the audience to solve. I thought I’d caught the twist early on, but I was very wrong. I have never been more wrong since my A-Level Physics exam. The ‘reveal’ came in a quick succession of blows, disintegrating the structure of the relationships, and then the very characters themselves. For a film that rested on long silences, where several minutes would pass without any dialogue at all, the final scene was tumultuous and the credits began before I could really grasp the film’s sudden collapse. And because I’d spent most of the duration smugly telling myself I knew what was going on, I left the cinema feeling incredibly confused. It was only when I got home that things neatly slotted into place, and I was a little annoyed with myself for not appreciating all the intricate details and symbols while I was watching. My advice, then, is not to try to unpick the twist, otherwise you’ll miss the carefully laid out motifs dotted around the film.

This is an incredibly unsettling story from Ed Talfan. If you’re used to the intense isolation and peculiar relationships of Hinterland, then you’ll already be prepared for an uncomfortable, gritty and provocative plot. Whilst Mark Lewis Jones, Annes Elwy and Dyfan Dwyfor do a fantastic job of presenting loneliness, miscommunication and personality breakdowns, the environment in The Passing is a character in its own right. Trees and sharp cliffs loom and everything is dripping wet. Water is a powerful, brooding presence in this film. The landscape is vast but also somehow claustrophobic, and the river and the rain give the scenery a sense of something chilling and unforgiving. The film is understated in its use of dialogue, but this technique makes the presentation of the secluded Welsh valley almost overwhelming.

The Passing/Yr Ymadawiad gave me a great deal to mull over. Disturbing, tense, at times even slightly nauseating, it offers an unflinching glimpse into a deeply troubled relationship both with other people and with the surrounding landscape. It combined all the best bits of Hinterland with the psychological thriller genre, using silence and symbols to create an atmosphere that was engrossing and memorable. This is an excellent film that really highlights the power of the Welsh landscape.

Alice Vernon is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University and a New Welsh Review blogger-in-residence.


       


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