Maya [Richard Fysh, UK, 2020]

Whilst dreams can provide a comforting, sugar-coated realm of escapism, so too, through their tendency toward self-deception, can they present a barrier against self-acceptance. As guests in lead character Maya’s resting subconscious, viewers wander through her dreamscapes. Here, events and locations become increasingly fantastical and lucid, as she fights her body’s natural insistence that she be awoken and her dreams shattered.

Within narrative scenes, Maya is prone to shift and change. At times it is kept deliberately opaque, with the dialogue between Maya and her male partner, F’eol, continually mysterious. In an inviting opening, we join Maya on a farm as she emotionally connects with her horses. From here we move away, joining Maya and F’eol as they recline in front of a fire in a cottage filled with contentment. From the shelter of this room, fantastical elements soon take hold. Now we accompany Maya and F’eol on a journey through waterfalls and ancient looking woodland, witnessing some of the most idyllic country settings the UK has to offer. Transported to ancient castles, she and F’eol playfight lovingly with swords, soon becoming apparent that Maya’s current dream state may in fact be an escape from her waking nightmare.

The first scene shows great promise, with strong camera work utilising the dulled, earthy tones of Maya’s stables, granting a slick and composed opening. As exciting as this introduction is, however, the subsequent scene provides a sobering wake-up call, as muffled dialogue recording and garish orange colouring, quickly dilute the early excitement. The editing is scruffy, at no stage really overseeing an easy or natural flow, a sensation that incrementally worsens as we stumble deeper into the story. Here, alas, clear and focused editing feels like an afterthought and, whilst it is indeed the last part of the creative filmic process, its importance should never be undervalued.

One great asset to the film is Ben Mungovin’s score, fittingly entitled ‘The Magical Silence’. Mungovin’s piece feels ethereal, with creative sampling possibly giving a nod to the unique exhalation of air through a horse’s large nasal cavity. Such touches cleverly help us to connect further with our character, and take some of the weight off of the scriptwriter and performers. As Maya wanders through forests that have a distinct, “as old as time” feel, the imaginative score helps forge a bond between viewer and character, pulling us into the intriguing dream world Maya occupies.

Maya makes many gallant aesthetic choices that to some may not land, but do at the very least give the project a unique flavour. Slow fades to black (an increasing rarity in the medium) are used twice here, once just before the opening credits, and again later on as Maya leans in for a kiss with F’eol. As transitional movements they provide variety, though may not be to everybody’s taste. Equally idiosyncratic are the sword fights between Maya and F’eol, clearly representative of the pair’s fun-loving and playful nature. Making these props wooden, and therefore for play rather than punishment, does add an interesting narrative consideration. Maya is only here playing at happiness, soon she must awaken and confront once more the stark realities that torment her, each less forgiving than a wooden sword.

Maya presents like a love letter to a childhood of make believe, to rainy afternoons sat in the impassioned throes of fantasy books. Yet, for all this, through its finale it grounds us is in a firmly adult world, one where our demons cannot simply be wished away.

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