Film-Forward Review: [WONDROUS OBLIVION]


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Emily Woof as Ruth
Sam Smith as David
Photo: Palm

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Written & Directed by: Paul Morrison.
Produced by: Jonny Persey.
Director of Photography: Nina Kellgren.
Edited by: David Freeman.
Music: Ilona Sekacz.
Released by: Palm.
Country of Origin: UK/Germany. 106 minutes. Not Rated.
With: Delroy Lindo, Sam Smith, Emily Woof, Stanley Townsend, & Leonie Elliott.

London is on the cusp of becoming a conflicted multicultural community in the early 1960s, and wide-eyed 11-year-old David Wiseman (a spritely Sam Smith) is on the verge of understanding the adult world around him. A typical boy, he’s obsessed with sports, specifically cricket, but blissfully unaware, in the titular expression, of his lack of prowess.

Like writer/director Paul Morrison’s debut film Solomon & Gaenor, Wondrous Oblivion is a detailed period piece about relations between Jews and non-Jews in Britain, though here the seriousness of the fraught coexistence message is leavened with humor, magical fantasy, optimism, and a love of cricket. The heartwarming can’t-we-all-get-along sentimentality is kept in check by characters that have some depth and are brought to life with feeling.

David’s cheerful klutziness steers around stereotypes about Jews in sports. (“You have a head for numbers at least,” says his posh school’s coach. “You can be our scorer.”) His hardworking family tries uneasily not to make waves with their increasingly anti-Semitic neighbors, and only one mother at David’s school, the pants-wearing leftist sporting a “Ban the Bomb” button, is friendly to his mother. Reticent about their past, his refugee parents’ shaky confidence further erodes when their next-door relatives move away and are replaced by a boisterous Jamaican family. In a funny sequence, one of many, all the nosy neighbors look on with avid curiosity and then shock as the new family uproots the backyard veddy English rose garden to build something extraordinary – a cricket pitch.

With his parents laboring long hours in their upholstering business and ignorant about British sports, David is irresistibly drawn to the extensive practice sessions between tomboy Judy (a sweetly expressive Leonie Elliott) and her father, Dennis Samuels (Delroy Lindo). Known mostly for his hard-hitting American roles, Lindo is the son of Jamaican immigrants to London, and this is the charismatic actor’s first film in his native England. He embodies a three-dimensional foundry worker, who is tense around whites, only relaxed with his fellow countrymen, and anxious to resume fatherhood since bringing over his daughters, who now have to compete with David for his attention.

The boy’s pretty mother, Ruth (Emily Woof), is fascinated, too, watching their father/son-like interaction (humorously shown like a sped-up silent film) and is gradually attracted to Dennis. Married young to an older man, Ruth confesses to growing up alone – “No one ever taught me to be a woman” – after coming to England on the Kindertransport, the desperate effort of German parents to send their children to safety, described in the documentary Into the Arms of Strangers. Skirting clichés about freer black culture releasing uptight whites, she discovers the joys of flirting to Caribbean rhythms. Looking on, David amusingly misunderstands their sexy dancing – “Look, he’s teaching her how to bat.”

Meanwhile, Judy’s devout mother welcomes “a real live Jewish boy, just like Jesus” and encourages David to chant the 23rd Psalm “in the original Hebrew” to their Christian congregation, accompanied by a gospel choir. David offers Judy the novelty of a bagel and a Mickey Katz record. The soundtrack is studded with a wonderful array of engagingly upbeat early rock ‘n’ roll, calypso and ska, the precursors to reggae. However, it's not all fun and games when the film takes a dark and violent turn leading to the climax.

Cricket is enough like baseball with its batsman and pitcher-like bowler that a neophyte can at least infer how David improves under Dennis’s tutelage, though the scoring and running can be mystifying, and the meaning in one scene has to be inferred by interpreting the reactions of David’s teammates when he seems to be hitting the equivalent of a series of foul balls. (The actors were coached by Phil Simmons, a former West Indian all-round cricketer).

The lovely production design, hair styles, and costumes are matched by the warm cinematography, from the brick urban streets to the lush green field and bright white uniforms at David’s private school, though Ilona Sekacz’s score over-stresses the whimsy. While American audiences can relate the characters, themes, and tone to Gary David Goldberg’s similarly nostalgic and baseball-obsessed TV series Brooklyn Bridge, Wondrous Oblivion certainly makes it seem like the world would be a better place if we would all just play cricket together. Nora Lee Mandel
November 2, 2006



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