Accomplished sculptor and avant-garde artist Henry Coombs arrived at Edinburgh film festival this year with his psycho-drama directorial debut Seat in Shadow. It’s a studied and emotional look at artist and muse, a close-up look at alienation, and an uplifting expose of life and love through the prism of gay experience. That’s not to say that Coombs’ debut is a specifically “gay” film, it looks at the network of anxieties which plague one young man, but its ultimate message is a testament to the complications of the human heart and mind.
Coombs wants to make something visually bold but really understands that without the characters or soul to back it, there’s nothing to pull us in. One of the profound pleasures of Seat in Shadow is getting to know its main characters and watching them dance around each other separated by a gulf of experience. There are moments when Jonathan Leslie’s depressed twink Ben will seem petulant and moody, an unattractive character for us to bond with, but through careful honest dialogue with a similarly petulant old hipster (the fantastic David Sillars), the film wanders quite intriguingly through a series of sit-down chats. If anything, Coombs wants to give as much time to the muse as he does the artist, he also doesn’t seem interested in backing up generalizations about millennials, instead really making the audience sit down and understand that everything we do is caused by something done to us. Even Ben’s potty-mouthed fag-hag granny (the hilarious Marcella McIntosh ) doesn’t feel like a bully, her own frustrations appearing to come from a place of love.
Heartfelt dialogue aside, this is an intimately drawn psycho-drama. Coombs’ choice of sets is perfect for the story, and his choice to really delve into the urban domestic of Glasgow pays of massively, giving the film a distinct cosy nature, whilst managing to slowly push us into an increasingly fantastical vibe. Albert’s mental health issues slip through as surreal visuals, some of them haunting and others just plain odd. Each of these visuals unveils something without being too abstract. This is a film that takes place in quiet secret places: the inside of an over-head road display, Albert’s pokey old artisan flat, a dingy club down a back alley. All of them provide opportunities for human experiences, and all of them can be transformed by mood and activity. In the end that is much of the point; Albert’s ability to transform his surroundings using his imagination and a little elbow-grease will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face the same way Coombs’ charm and flare transform what could have been a depressingly dull drama into something much more fulfilling.
Coombs has crafted a gorgeous little psychodrama with revealing surrealist touches, and even more revealing central performances from Sillars and Leslie.