Simon Aboud’s This Beautiful Fantastic (2016) certainly contained elements of beauty and certainly contained elements of fantastic. Fancy a film inspired by Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie mixed with cinematographic shots inspired from Wes Anderson films? Then watch this.
The plot is simple; an orphan, introverted recluse named Bella Brown (Jessica Brown-Findlay), must confront her childhood fear of nature and maintain the abandoned garden in her home to avoid being evicted. Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), her neighbour, is a dying cynic and obsesses over the abandoned garden. Vernon (Andrew Scott), his housekeeper, is treated inhumanly despite providing excellent service as a cook. Bella Brown works at the library and despite her uptight, vigilant boss Bramble (Anna Chancellor), she falls in love with a regular visitor, an eccentric engineer Billy (Jeremy Irvine). Famous names, handsome people and certainly an ideal, romanticised, idyllic plot. But the ideal lifestyle clashes with the unrealistic and the unachievable. The plot further battles with the aim of the film; to represent the quirky and ‘independent’ film.
The opening of the film emphasises Bella Brown as strange, an avid reader and a devoted introvert. Roald Dahl’s Matilda much? The film screams to be strange itself yet Bella Brown is presented as the typical girl next door or otherwise ‘English rose’. Typical, again, that she shows anti-social behaviour by living alone with several locks on the door. She also presents obsessive behaviour of perfectionism and rigorous cleaning, familiar to OCD, demonstrated with her arrangement of toothbrushes for each day of the week. Basically, the protagonist is a glamourized odd-ball.
Just like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s depiction of Paris, the setting is very much British, where everyone speaks ‘proper English’ and dresses to the likes of 19th-century Britain. Signs of technology are inexistent. Billy wears tiny, impractical rounded spectacles whereas Bella Brown wears blouses inspired by war rationing. She also wears the strangest gothic, black bee-suit to do the gardening, perhaps a physical ‘symbol’ of her hatred for nature. It is almost too obvious. Otherwise, the other characters are dressed to modern standards; perhaps this is a comment on Billy and Bella Brown idealising past depictions of romance in literature and film.
All the wives are deceased in this film too. Why is this so common in films? Vernon and Alfie seem deflated, defeated and weakened by the experience. Yes, death equals grief, but films commonly depict the passing of a partner as if it emasculates them. Vernon replaces the feminised role as a housekeeper, mother and father to his twins, and cook. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see Aboud challenge gendered performative roles in the household.
A comment must be made, too, on the character Billy. Billy portrays the typical eccentric behaviour of an introverted, geek enthusiast which would be odd had he not been played by Jeremy Irvine. He carries a flask of tea, a vintage camera, eats war food in the library (eggs and sandwiches filled with ham and piccalilli) and has an expensive, state-of-the-art vintage motorbike. For an upcoming engineer in his spare time, how can he avoid the dreaded nine till five lifestyle and hibernate in the library all day?
Despite the questionable moments in the film, it is easy and visually pleasing to watch. The walls of the homes are scattered with framed artwork, exotic plants and painted in dark greens and reds. Friendships and relationships are created, lessons of neighbourliness are addressed and love blossoms. While it is predictable and cringe-worthy at certain moments, the film is undoubtedly endearing and truly represents the ‘beautifully ordered chaos’ that is emphasised throughout the film.
This Beautiful Fantastic is available on to watch on Digital Download from 5th March on iTunes.
Photo Credit: Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay) Looking Upwards, Credit: The Movie Partnership