Waiting for Alan

Waiting for Alan

Richard Woolley has been one of my favourite discoveries of this year. This extended short is one of his simplest—or rather most direct—explorations of the political battlegrounds of everyday life, its gender troubles uncomplicated to a great degree by intersections with class or race (as in his other films Telling Tales, Brothers and Sisters and Girl from the South).

A middle-aged woman, defined by routine, is dislodged, or dislodges, through violence. The distilled narrative (which is as Woolley presents it, shorn of near-all accoutrements) would make an interesting counterpoint to Jeanne Dielman. It plays almost as Dielman's final day inverted—first declaring the coming of violence and then challenging the routine to break in order to... stay the execution, so to speak. The unexpected becomes unthinkable becomes inevitable, then perhaps ultimately unexpected again, a series of quiet unravellings redirecting and reorienting. This structural difference introduces a wryness, one matched by its lead, Marcia (Carolyn Pickles), her to-camera addresses making confused conspirators of us all. We want the cycles to break, but how?

There's a brief moment that could provide inter-class communion, where Marcia and her hired help Mrs Betts might both realise they are trapped within their 'repetitions of repetition' and foster something deeper. It feels like more familiar Woolley, who often manages to create a rare thing: rudimentary works of complexity, by turns achieving a cognitive dissonance which sits comfortably in its frame and its opposite, a didacticism which sticks in the craw. That the film doesn't continue on this route is partly due to Mrs Betts' obliviousness to both women's similarities, but mostly because Marcia's realisation immediately folds back over itself into solipsism. Here the political is very personal and, while cathartic, the release is not liberation.

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