It’s not often that a totally bizarre, surreal film turns out to be so heart-warmingly beautiful, but Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney’s film manages to do just that.
Set in 2035, James Preble (Audley) is an auditor for the government. Nothing strange there, except that he audits dreams, which are taxed and recorded by the regime. He’s tasked with checking on Bella (Penny Fuller), an older lady who is breaking the law by storing her dreams on video cassettes rather than the mandated air stick. While going through her dreams, Preble meets Bella as a young woman (Grace Glowicki) and discovers something deeply sinister: the government is bombarding its people with advertisements as they dream.
The future depicted in Audley and Birney’s movie isn’t too farfetched; after all, algorithms that work out what products to thrust at us through our screens are already commonplace. But Strawberry Mansion handles the satire beautifully, with the characters’ dreams being suitably oddball and irreverent. Preble’s liaison with the younger Bella is delightful, evoking Old Hollywood romances. Still, their relationship comes under threat once he finds out about the ad placement, as he’s chased through his dreams by Buddy (Linas Phillips). The latter keeps showing up and imposing on Preble’s dreams, wielding a bucket of fried chicken or some other ‘useful’ commercial item.
The film powerfully reminds us not to accept what’s forced on us blindly. The dream design is spectacular yet simple, as we enter worlds where anything can happen – be it frog-headed waiters (played by co-director and co-writer Birney) or rodent sailors setting sail for new adventures. It’s an impressive testament to what even a small budget can achieve. Strawberry Mansion deserves to find its audience. Unmissable.
Strawberry Mansion is in select cinemas and digital on September 16th.