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is teeth clenched in anger and exasperation. the film critic was livid as he stomped out of the preview theatre. ‘Pretentious drivel.’ he hissed.

‘Absolute bloody piffle’.

With these words he stopped suddenly. Shockingly, he’d realised all too late that the figure in the beret standing next to him was indeed the director ofthe film. The demonic bile of a few moments ago switched instantly to

I sheepish embarrassment.

‘Uhngh . . .sorry. . . ah. think I need acoffee really.’

Philip Ridley ( for it was he) smiled the knowing, indulgent smile of a man who’d seen it all before and, quite frankly, expected as much. If the critic looked decidedly on the fazed side, he himselfjust adjusted his beret and beamed. For some reason, his film The Reflecting Skin seemed to have this way of upsetting people.

Perhaps it was the exploding frog. Or possibly, this time, the pet foetus the journo couldn’t cope with. Could be, he found the idea of murdering children an uneasy one to come to terms with. Who knows? Maybe he just thought it. in the offhand words of one national reviewer. ‘a bit ofa wank’. Then again. there was always the bit with the self-immolation . . .

One thing however was certain. The Reflecting Skin was driving viewers to the veriest extremes in their responses. It was perfectly all right for Angry of Wardour Street to exit from the film in a swift huff, because there’d always be another critic along in the moment who loved it. After all, hadn’t Mr Ridley planned it this way?

‘You know in Cannes, they were tipping up their seats during the first scene,’ recalls the 29-year-old Londoner. ‘But the most extraordinary response was at Locarno where one halfofthe audience broke into spontaneous booing while the other halfwere all cheering. This went on right the way through the last five minutes.’

At which point, this particular scribe should let it be known that he stands firmly in the pro-Ridley camp on this one, our seething

*2: acquaintance from the first paragraph being one

of his less discerning colleagues. [H was in the mood for a declamatory statement I’d say that The Reflecting Skin is one of the true knockout British pictures of recent years, its scope. visual artistry and confident daring confirming the industrious Ridley as one of the brightest hopes for bona fide movie-making in this country.

Yes. that’s right, bonafide, because, if the evidence ofthis first feature and his previous screenplay for the Britcrime fairy tale The Krays are anything to go by, Ridley’s determination to communicate a riskily individual vision through a panoply of resonant images can only be encouraged. From the word go, The Reflecting Skin is out to transfix the viewer with its compelling. confrontational style.

The film’s familiar tale of a young boy’s passage from innocence to experience amidst weird scenes on the prairie is delineated by the contrasts between the adult viewer’s response and the child’s interpretation ofthe same visual stimuli. Thus, Lindsay Duncan’s enigmatic and lonely widow, Dolphin Blue, becomes, in the eyes of eight—year-old Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper), a vampire to be feared, while the discovery ofa waxy, rotting and rather repellent foetus yields a new friend to talk to late'at night. The return however of his older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) from military service in the US army’s nuclear testing programme and the

escalating carnage of a series of brutal child murders in and around the remote rural community are soon to shape playful magic of the boy’s fervid dream-world and the horrifying realities of grown-up existence into a final, despairing congruence.

‘I wanted it to be a dark fairy story about a child’s journey into the fears of the adult world that we all go through,’ explains the young writer/director, whose rounded features and everpresent jaunty beret instantly conjure up titles like Portrait of the Artist as a Young Benny Hill Lookalike, ‘which is a pretty big theme really, so I knew that it needed a huge arena in which it could be played out. I couldn’t set it in the East End like The Krays or my novel In The Eyes of Mr Fury, so we scouted around Canada to find the yellowest fields of swaying grain you could possibly imagine, and the bluest of blue skies. It’s that almost operatic kind of background that forms the world of The Reflecting Skin.’

The same biff-bang-pow! ethos seems to run throughout Ridley’s work. The clean lines and graphic clarity of his paintings, the unadorned directness of his prose, both throb with a simplicity so stark its self-assurance bursts with emotional resonance.

Since graduating from St Martin’s School of Art in 1984, Ridley’s frequent exhibitions, prolific writing (a novella Crocodilia, the aforementioned novel, a recent short story collection Flamingoes in Orbit, plus the radio play October Scars the Skin) and film work, demonstrate a highly individual aesthetic where interlocking family legends, and the totemic power of distinctive names and certain recurrent presences (lots of crocodiles, for instance), in the artist’s own words, ‘achieve their meaning through feeling.’

‘It’s a magical interpretation of reality,’ he says. ‘Not real but true.’

Given all his artistic slog, you can hardly blame Ridley for showing not a litle chagrin at the constant comparisons, hoisted at The Reflecting Skin in particular, with the wonderful world of David Lynch. ‘It’s just lazy thinking really. He’s working with all this 505 Americana, while my stuff is coming from a completely different source. Ifthe film is borrowing from anybody I’d most definitely say it was the Terence Mallick of Days ofHeaven or the Charles Laughton of Night ofthe Hunter. Just because it’s set in a small town and just because strange things happen. that doesn’t make it some sort of Lynch clone. People seem to just make that assumption all too easily without truly investigating the work.’

In the meantime, he’s not too sure that he likes being called a Renaissance Man, but with a more expansive film project and hopefully some work in the theatre next on the agenda the trademark Ridley creative drive shows no sign of flagging. Where does he get the time, the inspiration, the energy, you might well ask?

Well, here’s a clue. A little bird tells me he had packets of chocolate Hob Nobs specially flown over to the Reflecting Skin shoot in Canada.

‘Oh yes. . . of course. Couldn’t do without them. Lots ofcups of tea as well, you know. And the Jaffa Cakes. . . Don’t forget your Jaffa Cakes, that’s what I say.’

The Reflecting Skin (15) plays the Edinburgh Filmhouse from Sun 25 Nov to Sat] Dec and Glasgow Film Theatre from Sun 2 to Sat 8 Dec. In The Eyes of Mr Fury is a paperback Penguin Original at£4. 99, while Flamingoes in Orbit is currently available in hardback by Hamish Hamilton at£12. 99

The List 9— 22 November l‘)‘)() 9