It’s strange that something as messy as human intimacy is so frequently sanitised on screen, to the point that when a film marinates in the muck of a very particular love language, this rancidity is a breath of fresh air. Luna Carmoon’s debut feature about the daughter of a hoarder comes home bearing prizes, after premiering at the Venice Film Festival, announcing a young British talent capable of blending realism with surrealism to create a vivid personal language that defies simple interpretations.
The first of two timelines belongs to Hayley Squires’ (I, Daniel Blake) compelling whirlwind Cynthia who pushes the phrase ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ to its teetering endpoint. She’s a caring-yet-manic mother who drills young Maria (Lily-Beau Leach) to bring home debris in her lunchbox. The duo’s prime bonding activity is dumpster diving. Maria panics that their love will run out without the fuel of new additions to their ‘catalogue of love’.
Carmoon creates a clashing sensibility by infusing their trash jungle with wonder, as fairy lights twinkle and the sound design drums up the conspiratorial cosiness of a folie à deux. There is something of a The Florida Project-upon-south-London to the depiction of a flawed single mother with the energy to make her child deliriously happy.
But this does not last. Cut to 18-year-old Maria (Saura Lightfoot Leon) living with a kind, conventional foster mother (Samantha Spiro) in a house that in the absence of remarkable features is, at least, spick and span. BFF Laraib (Deba Hekmat) is her sole gleeful ally as other peers find her strange and stinky. School ends, Laraib is whisked away, and into this limbo saunters twentysomething Michael (Stranger Things’ Joseph Quinn), visiting his former foster mother ahead of settling down to marriage and kids.
This is a film camped out in the mystery of what really turns us on
What happens next might be predictable, but the way in which it happens is not. Maria and Michael sniff each other out as members of the same tribe. By wrestling, humping and doing terrible things with minced meat they enshrine their connection. Trash makes a triumphant return to the picture and, with it, constant references to smell, causing a tense push-and-pull between arousal and alarm and an effect of queasy intimacy that’s found in the work of the US indie filmmaker, Josephine Decker (Madeline’s Madeline).
Cinematographer Nanu Segal’s handheld camerawork captures the fearless Lightfoot Leon returning to the state of nature that Maria equates with love. Carmoon may nod to the ideas of a trauma response, but she is not interested in neat pathologising, for this is a film camped out in the mystery of what really turns us on.
Hoard gets its UK premiere at the London Film Festival. Its UK release date is TBC.