THE Wife and Her House Husband was shot during COVID shutdown in London, so there is distance between characters and no crowd scenes.
This perfectly suits the sparseness of the plot and the film’s unremitting focus, which is the marital breakdown of a couple struggling with guilt and grief.
It is the work of independent filmmaker Marcus Markou whose first feature, in 2012 was Papadopoulos and Sons, which had a markedly different tone.
This film begins with a scene of intense male rage from Matthew (Laurence Spellman) towards Cassie (Laura Bayston) in the process of a divorce negotiation after 20 years together.
Spellman’s powerful performance in this opening scene generates assumptions about patriarchal power relations that are slowly subverted as the film progresses.
It transpires they have an amicable agreement for dividing their property and child custody, so what has caused Matthew’s rage and Cassie’s sense of guilt?
The question is gradually answered for the audience through a simple plot device.
Cassie requests that they follow the instructions to a letter that they both wrote and sealed at the beginning of their romance, setting out tasks they would perform if they should ever terminate their relationship.
As they haltingly go through these simple steps, the audience picks up clues from their conversations.
From shards of references, the film reveals aspects of their life together, beginning with their sexuality and eventually getting to the conflict’s nub.
Along the way we see the gender power relations between them switch back and forth as their marital complexity surfaces and their human frailty and qualities become apparent.
The writer/director leads viewers step-by-step through the back story behind each aspect of this couple’s history. The slow peeling back of years and layers reveals a deeply human story of suffering and redemption.
Adults who have had to navigate any aspect of this couple’s narrative will be drawn into this film and have much to discuss afterwards.
Laura Bayston and Laurence Spellman are not big-name actors, but they deserve to be. There is not a wasted moment on screen.
And as for Marcus Markou, the finest traditions of social realist British cinema are in safe hands with him.
The Wife and Her House Husband is playing as part of the British Film Festival, which is at Luna on SX until November 29.
Go to lunapalace.com.au for tickets and session times.
by BARRY HEALY