Stanley lives alone on an isolated farm in a Welsh valley, spending his days digging a well, tending to his chickens and plaining wood. And so his simple existence might have continued were it not for the appearance of Iwan and Sara, a young couple stranded when their car crashes in a nearby river. It soon becomes apparent that they are all harbouring secrets, and that the tranquil idyll of the rural haven will soon be shattered.
The first genre movie ever made in the Welsh language, Yr Ymadawiad (The Passing in English) is difficult to classify simply, but is all the more distinctive as a result. It straddles a hazy point somewhere between genre and art house, containing aspects of both but not wholly classifiable as one or the other.
A three-handed drama mostly lacking any action, the character interaction forms the bulk of the story. The precise nature of the relationship between Iwan and Sara is difficult to get a proper read on, as one minute they are casually intimate and affectionate, while the next they seem unsure how they feel about even touching each other. Sara occasionally transforms at will into an exhibitionist minx, getting off on the thought that someone could be watching her. Iwan, meanwhile, grows jealous of any time she spends apart from him, becoming increasingly domineering and threatening, as he feels his authority is undermined. Stanley is a quiet enigma, almost childlike in his reluctance to engage without prompting. His every action is precise in its physical economy, like each movement is carefully thought out before being performed.
The film is light on dialogue for lengthy patches, relying on visuals and imagery to advance the story and relate characters’ thoughts. Shot largely with natural light, be it the grey-white haze of the overcast Welsh sky during day or the flickering blaze of oil lamps at night, the lack of artifice creates an intimacy with the surroundings that gradually pulls you in until you, like the characters, believe you’ve found your own personal paradise and never want to leave. As the morning sun shines on trees, still damp from the night’s rain, and clouds of mist envelop the landscape in an eldritch haze, you truly believe that the cold, the wet and the mud of the countryside has never looked so beautiful. It’s the kind of film that needs to be seen in a cinema, being such a visual-heavy and immersive experience it requires a viewing where all other sense and perception is suspended, and your world literally extends no further than the isolated Welsh valley.
The dank and dilapidated house in which the makeshift trio stay is curiously timeless, seemingly untouched by the progression of the world beyond. Despite nothing overt occurring, there is a creeping sense of otherness about the whole situation, and it’s precisely this lingering lack of certainly that makes the film so compelling. Yr Ymadawiad asks for a great deal of patience as you await its narrative payoff, but the breathtaking scenery it provides makes the time it takes to get there an unforgettable experience.
YR YMADAWIAD / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: GARETH BRYN / SCREENPLAY: ED TALFAN / STARRING: MARK LEWIS JONES, DYFAN DWYFOR, ANNES ELWY / RELEASE DATE: TBA