Film review: Canopy

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WORDS | Alessandro Guarrera

Shot on location in the Jungles of Singapore and the Australian outback, Canopy tells the tale of Jim (Chittenden), an Australian pilot shot down over Singapore in 1942. Jim’s jungle jaunts are no japes to be sniggered at; Japanese soldiers comb the rustling forests, whose oppressive sounds form an endless wall of green, above and below, the canopy of the trees holds him in its embrace. Jim soon finds a friend in Seng (Mo), a Singaporian-Chinese resistance fighter. Jim and Seng share no common language, the only word Seng can articulate is his whispered cry of “Chinese!”, trying to calm Jim who confuses him with one of the many Japanese soldiers patrolling the Jungle.

Canopy was shot using ‘Red ONE’ digital cameras, and it shows; the uncanny portrait of smoke and haze filled skies, to early POV shots through Jim’s pilot goggles, all reveal such a plethora of detail to create a distinct sense of hyperreality and immersion. This visual detail serves Canopy well, what with its repeated forays into the realm of Chiaroscuro night shots, and the memorable extreme close ups on the bodies and faces of our two leads.

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Compliments aside, Canopy isn’t a film for everyone; since the two leads have a large language barrier between them, most of the dialogue is non-verbal, through physicality and expression. When we hear characters talk, they’re often speaking in Japanese or Mandarin, and it’s always unsubtitled. Shots linger as though the director simply left the camera running, and the plot is not entirely clear, what with several unexplained flashbacks which ostensibly provide a contrast between Jim’s past and present, but serve only to further pad a quiet film. The burning skies and sfumato like filming are love-them-or-leave-them; what one viewer finds artistic, is another’s pretentious and boring; a sentiment undoubtedly felt by several in Canopy’s screening.

Cinematographically, Canopy is a feast for the eyes, the depth of field the Red ONE camera brings to the table allows it to realize its picturesque landscape shots, and makes its repeated visuals of the Jungle overhead all the more oppressive. Canopy is a minimalist film, through and through, relying on the physicality of the actor’s performances right down to their minute facial expressions. At times, Canopy runs headfirst into the pitfalls that typify many independent art-films, being nonsensical or boring for the sake of it. This makes Canopy a difficult film to recommend to the average cinema goer. To its credit, it wasn’t made for them; its picturesque images of destruction are largely divorced of all violence, the character’s intensity never ratchets to the point of Canopy becoming a thriller, this is no ‘Schwazallone’ film.

It’s something finer.