Andrew Ball-Shaw’s Lavender opens with a purple-filtered, soft focus close-up of a couple holding hands and walking through a lavender field. This is matched with a voiceover listing the various permutations of the colour purple – violet, indigo, magenta – “often associated with wealth, power, royalty, creativity.” He continues, “but the colour purple, it doesn’t exist. There is no pure purple.” The sombre piano and violin score gently lilts above and below the image and voice, neatly guiding us into the film’s emotional terrain. “So, if the colour purple doesn’t exist, then what happens?” he finally asks, as the elegant calligraphy of the title card fades into central view. “The brain fills in the gaps.”
It is a lovely prologue that effortlessly sets up its central premise, whilst challenging the audience to evaluate well-worn cultural preconceptions and beliefs. Here, the colour purple (or the absence thereof) is associated with memory and its transience. Where opulence, power, and pleasure all tend towards presence and feeling, here we are dealing with things impercipient and mortal.
It quickly transpires that Fern Gledhill (played by Libby Wattis) is struggling with the onset of dementia, with her daughter, Violet (Caroline Vella), learning to care for her in this strange and evolving context. The severity of Fern’s illness exponentially intensifies – where at first she is seen to repeat herself, answer questions not asked, and misplace objects around the house, she later almost burns the house down cooking, and nearly gets run over after leaving the house in bedclothes and slippers in the snow. It is eventually suggested by a doctor (in an overtly expositional moment) that she be moved to a care home where she can be properly and expertly cared for.
These moments portrayed in the present are interspersed with more of the lavender field scenes, as we realise the couple is a younger Fern with her husband, her loving memories uncontrollably emerging and fading, as she tries to reconcile the past with her narrowing perception of the present.
Lavender is shot capably, and the sound mixing and editing are competent. The score, with its tinkling, arpeggiated piano lines and languid violin melodies, is accomplished if a little overused, towing the action into a melodramatic domain, and is far more effective when it hauntingly looms over the present day scenes in Fern’s moments of panic and confusion. The performances, in contrast, are a little undercooked and can distract a bit from the film’s noble intentions.
Ball-Shaw’s heart is certainly in the right place though, and the film is sprinkled with impressive visual flourishes and emotional dialogue, but could perhaps afford some levity in order to create a more impactful sense of pathos – Ricky Gervais’ Derek [UK, 2012-14] and Afterlife [UK, 2019– ] are apposite touchstones.
'Lavender' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.