“In the UK and Ireland more than 125 people will commit suicide this week,” reads text at the beginning of I Made This For You, followed by a chaotic montage of people engaged in the noisy business of their everyday London existences. These, it will turn out, are some of the dramatis personae of both the film, and of a documentary film within the film. Suddenly everything turns to monochrome and the sound disappears, setting protagonist Al (Gary Grant) apart and isolating him from this world of colour and action. Al is alone in his bare upstairs apartment, contemplating suicide. His friend Daniel (writer/director Cristian Solimeno) first calls Al’s mobile phone, and then presses his door buzzer, but Al ignores him – the gulf between them accentuated by the fact that Daniel on one side of the door is shot in full colour, and Al on the other is in a dull, oppressive black & white.
Excluded from any contact with his friend, but prepared for this, Daniel slides a DVD under the door, “I Made This For You” handwritten across its front. It is a deeply personal gesture – and indeed, both Daniel’s film, and Solimeno’s film that contains it, take the form of what rhetoricians would call an apostrophe: a direct address to an absent person, whether it be to the holed-up, remote Al who has wilfully made himself inaccessible to all, or to the film’s viewers, always kept at a distance on the other side of the screen, yet, like Al, gradually drawn into the rich emotive world of the film before them. That ‘you’ in this title implicates us all – and the fact that the ‘I’ is, on different levels, both Solimeno himself and a filmmaking character played by Solimeno, only adds to the sense that this message has been lovingly custom-made for our own eyes as much as for Al’s. Any of us, after all, could be an Al, could let things slip or fall into despair or be overwhelmed with depression and see no way out, could be one of the suicide statistics cited in the film’s opening text. Indeed one of the contributors to the film, Billy Yates, took his own life before it was completed.
Daniel’s hour-long video, shown in real time (in colour) with constant cutaways to Al’s silent reactions (a masterclass in realist mime), is a compilation of to-camera interviews with the different people who love Al: his friends from school and university, his single father (Francis Magee), his ex-girlfriends and ex-almost-girlfriends, his teachers and co-workers and flatmates, his drinking buddies, a complete stranger with a terminal illness (Sarah Storer), and even, eventually, his estranged mother (Alison Newman). As these people share anecdotes and try to describe their feelings about someone who has them all very worried, the film is in part like a DIY episode of This Is Your Life, and in part a premature eulogy (with all the participants, as they narrate their memories, referring to their viewer in the past tense). It is almost as though Al is a sofa-bound version of George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), bearing witness to the impact that his absence would have – is having – on other people. This engenders a unique, almost experimental narrative form, as the grey, voiceless Al is gradually fleshed out by all the stories being told in the film that he watches and, at his crossroads, is pulled back towards life.
I Made This For You is a last-ditch love letter, all at once sensitive, distressing and uplifting – an ode to friendship and connection, and an emergency beacon call to the abyss’ edge. Seamlessly woven from the talented cast’s improvisations about real people they knew who had committed suicide or were causing concern, the script almost literally brings Al to life, both as a character and a person, compositing and conjuring his rediscovered sense of self from a collection of real broken hearts. The resulting film is both important and overwhelming. It needs to be picked up stat, along with Solimeno’s previous, very different take on a lost soul, The Glass Man (2011).
© Anton Bitel