Film & TV

Review: Say My Name @ Cardiff International Film Festival 2018

Say My Name is not just your regular, cookie-cutter romantic comedy. The independent production has been selected as one of the Welsh Film finalists in the 2018 Cardiff International Film Festival, and its script is written by none other than the host of The Guilty Feminist podcast, Deborah Frances-White.

As a long-time listener of The Guilty Feminist, I was excited to experience Frances-White’s work across a medium different to a podcast. Being familiar with her previous screenwriting for TV and radio shows, I expected the unexpected from Say My Name, knowing that Debora would not let herself be confined to the traditional mould of what a rom-com should look like. I must say, I was not disappointed- Say My Name takes its audience on a wild journey, which no one is really prepared for, teaching us about love, loss, the many faces a person can have and the stories behind them- all of that, in 90 minutes.

Say My Name is a story about a one-night stand gone wrong, as two strangers who have been brought together by accident, or faith, become the targets of an armed robbery. From then on, the protagonists, Mary and Statton, become involved in a whirlwind of adventures, as they chase after their stolen property. Little do they know, however, that along the way they will unearth many of their own personal dilemmas and emotional struggles, revealing parts of their personalities neither of them had thought existed.

The film’s lead, Mary Page (Lisa Brenner), is the driving force that moves the plot forward- she is a woman with many names, who’s lived many lives and is able to talk her way out of any trouble. The movie’s title reflects her multifaceted character and the mystery in which her real self is shrouded- until the end, the viewer is uncertain of how authentic the stories she tells about her past really are. However, as the plot unravels, we get our answers on the truth behind her character, the final scenes revealing her most vulnerable and authentic self- the one she had been desperately trying to conceal.

Statton Taylor (Nick Blood), on the other hand, is a man used to being in his comfort zone, who has let his horizon be limited to his ex-wife’s couch, and who secretly dreams of taking his life into his own hands. The piano-tuner’s insecure nature becomes quite evident early on, as the audience discovers that he uses a book to help him remember people’s names- a practice clearly ineffective, provided that he forgets Mary’s name shortly after they have met. However, it is fascinating to watch how, as he meets Mary, he turns into a man of action, who isn’t just tuning other people’s pianos anymore, but who “makes his own music”.

In a whirlwind of mishaps and unexpected turn of events, the pair finds themselves in the most unusual situations- from being held at gunpoint by an ex-opera singer-turned thief, to being bailed out of jail by the Mother Supreme, from the convent in which Mary used to be a novice nun. Whilst the jam-packed action which Say My Name offers us may seem confusing, the storyline is easy to follow and successfully engages the audience. Going back and forth between moments of pure comedy, to suspense and truly heart-warming scenes, each viewer can find a little of themselves in the way the film reveals the personalities behind the seemingly predictable facades of its characters.

Aside from its witty and imaginative script, Say My Name delights with impressive sound and light effects and a variety of shooting locations. Every detail about the film’s production has been approached with great passion and attention- from having the majority of the roles being played by Welsh actors, to incorporating jokes that accurately represent the Welsh humour. As Deborah herself admitted, there are many parallels that can be drawn between Mary’s storyline and her own personal experiences. During the Q&A session after the screening, the screenwriter shared more about her writing process, saying that, while some parts of the script can be seen as autobiographical, her main goal was to make it relatable and engaging for the audiences. I’d say she succeeded in that- just like a lighthouse and an ocean, the audience’s feelings synced with the dynamic of the film, growing to love, laugh and cry with the main characters, making the adventure of Mary and Statton their own.

By Yana-Maria Milcheva