Couple in a Hole, written and directed by Tom Geens, Dukes at Komedia, Brighton, Saturday, 10 April, 6.15pm.
Eye in the Sky, directed by Gavin Hood, with Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman, Duke of York' Picturehouse, Brighton, Sunday, 11 April, 11am.
It is accidental, of course, that these two films are being released close together. And though they come from opposing ends of the financial spectrum, they share a number of characteristics; the most notable being their one act structure. In other words, both films fill their running time with just one story, one action.
In the case of Eye in the Sky, the action hinges on a decision, or otherwise, to fire, or not to fire, a missile from a drone above the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, Kinshasa; a high tech McGuffin, a device which impels the action but is ultimately outside of, extra to, the characters' interactions.
The missile, or McGuffin, sets off a number of interactions in different rooms, all nested one inside another, depending on their level of importance in the various hierarchies.
So the missile on the drone is being guided by two operatives in a room in Nevada; their immediate superior is in another room nearby; they have logistical support from another American in another room in Hawaii. Meanwhile, back at the ranch... sorry I mean in England, Helen Mirren is a Colonel in the Army, in charge of giving the order to fire; her superior (Alan Rickman) is in a room in Whitehall, in a meeting of politicians, The Attorney General, the Minister for Defence, and other civil servants, advisers, what-have-you. More politicians are in even more rooms, including one in Beijing.
In Kinshasa, there are still more rooms, such as a large warehouse where members of the Congolese army are waiting, the arrival hall of the airport, local houses containing terrorists, a van for local surveillance.
One of the rooms in Kinshasa contains a family, a mother, father and small girl who plays with a hoop and does her homework. We will see much more of the family and especially the girl later.
The action bounces from room to room, the drone hovers overhead. The rooms in England and America have screens showing the rooms in Kinshasa, but not vice versa.
The screens show that some terrorists are suiting up suicide bombers. Cue panic. Ok, it seems a no-brainer that the missile should be fired. But, wait a minute, who's that standing near the room in question? This reviewer dares go no further.
Drawing a discreet veil over spoilers for Eye in the Sky, we turn to Couple in a Hole.
If at the ostensible centre of Eye in the Sky are some religious fanatics, at the heart of Couple in a Hole is a religious aesthetic or hermit, one who has secreted themselves away for reasons of purification, penance. It is the wife who is in the hole, who has retreated from the world, and the husband is circling her, finding food for her, looking after her, protecting her.
In a further circle beyond him is a man from the local village, situated in the Mid-Pyrennees region of France. This man is clearly concerned for both man and woman and tries to help, leaving food parcels, attempting contact, conversation.
In a circle further out is this man's wife, who seems very hostile to the couple and to her husband.
The mountains and forest in which the couple have hidden themselves away, in which is their hole, really a hollow under a fallen tree, is filmed to suggest its wild, untouched, quality. There are suggestions of a more primitive, primal dimension to her spiritual retreat.
She is sewing a cloak from rabbit skins; she fashions small tokens, wrapped in leaves which her husband ritually throws from a cliff, she rarely emerges into the sunshine and when she does, stands and walks with difficulty.
The mystery of their situation, the religious overtones, the sublime, in its philosophic sense, of their surroundings, the implied menace from the village, all this is very interesting and diverting. And it has to said, the acting is impressive, honest in a way that suggests a kind of Dogme purity.
And the ending is really worth waiting for.
Yet, just like Eye in the Sky, we are left saying, 'Yes? What happens now? Is that it?'
Are one act films now the thing? Are script writers saying, 'No one write 3 acts any more. Isn't one enough?' No wonder television is taking over.
Expensive or cheap, with all the toys or just a hole in the ground, films seem to be retreating from even a pretence of dealing with difficult subjects in a complex way. It is enough now to show, to create tension, to have interesting cinematography, and that is all.
An act should be about the transformation of one or more characters in some profound or lasting way, and that change then informs the action of the next act. This is hard. It involves coming out and saying what you are really thinking. It means exposure.
Both these films, in the end, make bold statements and then run back into their respective holes. Both are ultimately disappointing.