I was looking forward to seeing Helen (2009), not least because the film has been described as “the latest sign of a UK art cinema resurgence.” (We might amend this to “the only sign…”). But the premise of this movie turns out to be far more intriguing than anything that the filmmakers, Joe Lawlor and Christine Malloy (making their feature debut), actually do with it. The title character (Annie Townsend) is a teenage girl from a care-home who is recruited to participate in a reconstruction of the last-known moments of a girl named (with heavy-handed Significance typical of the movie) Joy. With a fractured sense of identity and belonging due to her background, Helen gradually undertakes an investigation of the missing girl's life, stepping into "Joy" via odd encounters with her parents and boyfriend.
Helen thus sets itself up as a Passenger-ish exploration of identity and the end result has all the art-conscious ambience that that implies. (And none of the pleasures of that particular Antonioni movie.) Posed and stilted converstaions abound, with all the characters speaking in the same level, neutral tone. (The movie features the most unnaturally still group of teenagers ever seen.) The shots are composed with such over-obvious, scrupulous care that any emotional involvement is lost, ensuring that Helen - and Helen - remain sadly remote to the viewer.