Following its premiere at Melbourne International Film Festival last year, this reverse time travelling mockumentary gets a limited release around the country. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF OTTO BLOOM is the debut feature of Cris Jones, and while it may borrow thematically from a number of other films, it’s still a charming love story told in a less-than-conventional way.
Using the form of a documentary, various talking heads tell the story of how the enigmatic Otto Bloom (Xavier Samuel) turned up in the 1980s with no memory of where he came from. Neuropsychologist Dr Ada Fitzgerald (Rachel Ward) recounts how her younger self (Matilda Brown) discovered that Bloom was experiencing time backwards, with his past being our future. The question of whether he is a freak or fraud becomes secondary to what his condition means to the very nature of human existence.
Kind of a budget version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by way of Memento, Jones’ commitment to the format is both a strength and a stumbling block for the otherwise straightforward (or is that straightbackward?) story. The actual documentary form is done incredibly well, with ‘archival’ footage and the retro attention to detail quite stylish. Some of the faux TV moments aren’t done as well, especially the US talk shows, but the focus always remains on character.
So it’s a shame that Samuel is perhaps the weakest link, with his slow and otherworldly delivery making him an abstraction rather than a character. Far more interesting are the people around him, with Ward bringing genuine emotion and relative newcomer Brown a warm human voice to counterbalance Bloom’s alienness.
What brings the film to life are the flashes of Bloom’s contemporary art, allegedly the works of a mind with a unique perspective of time. The portraits, surrealist pieces and elegant short film Pas de Cent are an expression of time through art, which is a microcosm for the film itself. This combination of high concept, art and romance makes THE DEATH AND LIFE OF OTTO BLOOM a great step forward for genre film in Australia. It’s ultimately a tragic love story, but like the character of Bloom himself, it leaves you with plenty to contemplate if you’re open to it.