VOD film review: Strings (2012)
James R | On 03, Sep 2020
Director: Rob Savage
Cast: Philine Lembeck, Oliver Malam, Hannah Wilder, Sid Akbar Ali
Watch Strings online in the UK: BFI Player
“Do you think in German?” Jon (Malam) asks foreign exchange student Grace (Lembeck). With two weeks until school breaks up forever, they’ve started seeing each other. Not that they’ve told anyone. And so the couple meets in the bedroom, having awkward interactions followed by awkward interactions of another kind. It’s sweet. But awkward.
That’s what Rob Savage’s Strings captures perfectly: the awkwardness of adolescence.
“You don’t look German,” adds Jon.
Along with our channel-crossing couple, Strings follows another pair of pained lovers: Scout (Wilder) and Chris (Ali). They have an equally uneasy relationship. Picking their way through a derelict building, they talk honestly, veering between affectionate flirting and weary sniping. “I love you, but sometimes I really hate you,” confesses Scout, staring into the distance.
It feels real, thanks to a freewheeling air of improvisation. A shoestring production made in Savage’s hometown for something like £3,000, the debut director keeps things relaxed, letting the cast interact naturally. It’s an approach that draws strong performances from all of the young actors, particularly Lembeck’s outsider. (Sid Akbar Ali even throws in a nod to Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.)
Chucking everything together with a raw and messy immediacy, Strings’ subtly gripping flow is only disrupted by quick, candid montages of things like people making their beds. It sets the mood well enough and the cinematography is excellent but the challenging part for audiences is the use of silence. It’s a big decision to chop off the soundtrack altogether – and it works, for example, during a nightclub scene, heightening the visuals.
Sequences left un-translated in German are frustrating but intentionally so; for someone who turned 18 mid-shoot, Savage has a strong grasp of what can be done with form as well as content. When the two successfully align, Strings is excellent, taking us closer to life’s growing pains than some big-budget teen films. Like its carefully-drawn teenage characters, this is realistic, honest, and – yes – slightly awkward.
That sincerity marks out this impressive first effort from a young filmmaker – and leaves you curious to see what he’ll do with his next £3,000.