Every time I watch the first movie of a new director, I remember the famous Sydney Lumet word when he advised young directors: “There is no need at all to worry about how people and critics will receive your first movie, because the debut always carries its excuses inside itself”. So among 19 movies shown at the International competition section at the 56th Locarno International Film Festival, I chose the British movie “16 Years of Alcohol” by Richard Jobson to be my own target in this article. It really touched me so much as a successful directing debut. It was clear from the first scene that we were watching a movie of a talented director well organised mentality and with a special sense in dealing with his tools also, having a clear idea and vision of what he wanted to express. A clear idea and its development – whereas several movies in this Festival suffered from confusion and unclear ideas and different artistic languages at the same time, which lead at the end to a big mess.
Director Richard Jobson who wished that his movie represented Scotland but not the United Kingdom, refused several offers to adapt his book 16 Years of Alcohol for the screen deciding to direct it himself, in order to draw a real portrait of Scottish popular culture from the 60s to the 80s. Jobson as a director and a scriptwriter manages to discuss several themes at the same time related tightly to each other in one dramatic chain, expressing his vision and analysis regarding violence, depression, loneliness, and loss of identity. Alcoholism, also in its various socio-political aspects. It is a story about hope and desire as Frankie, the young hero of this movie, explains. Frankie, this bad violent depressed guy takes us on a psychological journey using his unconsciousness as a theatre of events, remembering his miserable childhood and his ambivalent feelings for his father, who was a womaniser and a drunk too. From then the innocent Frankie disappeared, after an angry violent alcoholic monster kicked the old pure version out taking its place to confront the real hard world supported by his cruel gang as if they were his twins having the same broken past and families. What’s interesting in this movie is the artistic style that director Richard Jobson established dramatically and visually creating a strong mixture between scenes, voice-over narratio, a few absurd fantasy moments, playing cleverly with time and place from different points of view and aspects. It is easy to enjoy in 16 Years Of Alcohol the set and light designs, editing, supportive camera and the music, the latter of which plays a positive role in creating this special world of Frankie in his childhood, and after having a couple of experiences with love. As long as the society was still cruel enough to refuse this injured victim even after his seriously trying to recover, so it was not strange at all that Frankie – as a person and a symbol – has been beaten harshly by his gangs at the end, failing to tame the anger inside himself despite the fact of his hard work, but still he had the dangerous problem of mistrust. That’s why I think this British movie “16 years of Alcohol” deserves analytical reading, particularly when you know that it is a really low budget movie. When Signora Irene Bignardi the artistic director of the Locarno International Film Festival asked Richard Jobson to reveal the financial budget to the audience by numbers, he was smart enough to say ‘My movie budget was cheaper than your elegant beautiful dress…’
© FIPRESCI 2003