No two people react to life experiences exactly the same. Whether it’s a loved one cheating, an unexpected pregnancy, or being given a cactus when you expected a cat, reactions can be similar but they are fundamentally individual. It seems like an easy enough statement, some might argue it’s common sense, but it’s surprisingly difficult to remember when it comes right down to it. Zelos is a film that reminds us of exactly that.
This Australian dramedy about Sarah and Bernard, a couple learning and living through the fragility of love, artistically captures one of life’s learning moments in an extremely raw way.
The film is largely of the two characters reacting to an incident we, the audience, did not see on screen. While I felt slightly disconnected to the characters because I didn’t know enough about them or the incident they were reacting to, I am very happy Zelos was written this way. Doing so, without negating the complications of the incident, leaves us with one question: Is cheating wrong?
As Claire Harris, writer and produce of Zelos, said in our interview: “…. My intention is really to get people thinking about these things instead of preaching at them.” Not knowing who Sara and Bernard are as individuals, not even their last names, I wondered how I would comfort either of them if I were their friend. If I were Bernard’s friend, would I tell him he could do better than a cheater? Would I tell Sarah she did the right thing by telling the truth and can only do so much for Bernard? I answered yes to both.
But Sarah and Bernard are not my friends. They are two strangers I quietly watched as a partially omniscient viewer. Why was it so important for me to know the parties involved before I decided who was in the wrong? Is cheating wrong only when it’s done to someone I care about? Is cheating okay if you come clean about it? I came to no answer.
One thing we do know about the couple is they were – perhaps are – very much in love. I have no doubt in my mind that Sarah and Bernard loved each other. More importantly, I have no doubt that they loved each other equally. It was the writing, casting, and acting that made the two such a real couple; a team effort that the Zelos crew should really be proud of.
While the loving montage of Sarah and Bernard at the start of the film showed how much they loved and had fun spending time together, that was all it did. Ironically, the moments that truly showed the two were in love were in their distinctive pain: the pain in having hurt someone who would never have done the same and the pain in having been hurt by someone who should have known better.
I think this was best captured in my favourite scene where Sarah and Bernard are sitting in silence after her welcome home party. Desperation, anger, hurt, and so many other palpable emotions, all very negative, fill the room. As Bernard clears the plates, a failed attempt to do the same with his mind, Sarah tugs at his arms and a plate falls out of his hands and breaks. Sarah immediately bends over to collect the broken pieces and after a few breaths Bernard drops the rest of the plates on the floor by her and walks away. The scene ends with Sarah in shock surrounded by the shards.
The allegory from what we see on screen to what the characters must be feeling is orchestrated so respectfully and artistically that this scene left me in awe. Bernard’s plates that broke because of Sarah’s tug in parallel to Bernard’s heart and trust that broke because of Sara’s affair, both times where she did not intend or want anything to end up broken. Then Sarah immediately trying to collect the pieces to remedy the situation and Bernard taking a moment’s break before dropping the rest alluding to Sarah’s proposed solution for Bernard to cheat and him having a difficult time trying and ultimately rejecting it. Sarah left alone with the plate pieces as she is often throughout the rest of the movie reading a book at home while Bernard is out playing squash, at parties, or with Rebecca. Separate from the scene, Bernard later replacing his own plates masterfully implies he’d have to fix this himself without Sarah’s solution.
I also would like to applaud the roles Charlie and Rebecca’s relationship play in the film. I, and probably rest of the audience, did not realise they were having troubles until their sudden spat during the board game. Sarah and Bernard reacting to their friends fight, which quickly escalated to Charlie moving out and their break up perfectly translated our reactions to Sarah and Bernard. Charlie and Rebecca’s individual struggles as they both wrongly assume the other’s lack of care or the permanence of the separation make clear how easily love can be misunderstood and broken. Yet as we see and understand this through their romance, Sarah does not and so she summarises her friends’ relationship in passing mentions, “Do you think they’ll break up?” and then later, “They broke up. I saw it on Facebook” which depicts her as an outsider just as we are to her and Bernard’s situation.
As the film went on, the comedy seemed a little oddly timed but such timing added to the unexpected reality of life and the human need to use or seek humour and light as a barrier. Above all, the way the sarcasm was written and performed was phenomenal and deservingly puts the film in the dramedy genre without it needing ridiculous or cheesy jokes.
As a whole, Zelos is a film I am thrilled to have seen. The countless homage to Sydney, the realness of the characters, the clever approach to the open-endedness of modern romance and relationships, and the thematic balance between what we want from life and what life gives us all come together in a project successfully produced.
Interview with Claire Harris here
Find out more about Zelos: www.zelosthemovie.com