Technical genius Adrian (Luke Ford) has OCD, which appears to have swallowed his life up wholesale after an unexpected break up. Holed up in his apartment, which is in a continuous cycle of cleaning, his only real escape is tearing around in his car at high speeds. When he meets Grace (Anna Samson), a painter with Dissociative Identity Disorder, the pair seem destined to be together. But only if they can overcome Adrian’s fastidious habits and Grace’s predatory personality.
Giving the leads of your romantic comedy mental health issues is tricky ground to navigate. Jokes built around your characters could be seen as laughing at them, rather than with them. Additionally, in the pursuit of true love, there’s a certain danger of downplaying their daily struggles. What if it Works?, from first time director Romi Trower, not only tackles these issues, it does so with success.
It helps that Trower writes Grace and Adrian as fully developed characters, rather than tropes wrapped up in human skin. They are not drawn to each other because they’re ‘outsiders’, other ‘normal’ characters, such as Adrian’s ex (Brooke Satchwell), are shown to have their own issues to figure out. Instead, we see a genuine affection brewing between the pair in the brightly shot painted laneways of Melbourne. All of which is further bolstered by humanistic performances from Ford and Samson that steer clear from pantomime. Samson, in particular, does a fair amount of heavy lifting as Grace and her several personalities.
Whilst What if It Works? may not have the most complex of plots and secondary characters do seem light on exposition, this simply gives us the opportunity to enjoy the company of our heroes. And considering how touching and big-hearted that company is, it’s completely worthwhile.
In her first venture into film, author Mary Zournazi is open about having stumbled quite fortuitously onto the topic of her documentary. Originally intended to be an exploration of her own Greek roots in Athens, Zournazi soon uncovers a microcosm of stray dogs who roam the streets freely, whilst being cared for by many of the locals. Like Ceyda Torun’s Kedi – which looked at the large populace of homeless cats that prowl through Istanbul – we meet both humans and canines, witnessing the love they share for each other.
Extending beyond merely trying to make its audience feel warm and fuzzy, Zournazi tries to understand if there’s a way humanity can learn something from its furry brethren with regards to ethics and morality. This ideology is emboldened by the time and place in which Zournazi finds herself filming; Greece is being crippled by an economic crisis that is causing, amongst other things, mass unemployment. Like the dogs we meet, the people of Athens are cut adrift, facing tough realities. However, as the film progresses we see how these very same people can find moments of hope within their interactions with the dogs, whose resilience effectively rubs off on them.
The hero of the film is perhaps Loukanikos, a stray who appeared at numerous anti-austerity protests being photographed dodging tear gas alongside his human protestors. Loukanikos is set up to be a symbol of the people, from which those who gather around his memorial can extract their own sense of purpose. Zournazi highlights how as a society, if we are able to think of others, even in moments of great stress and foreboding, only then are we more likely to come together and stand strong in the face of disquiet.
Engaging and thought-provoking, go see Dogs of Democracy for the wet nosed mischief makers, but stay for the uplifting philosophical discussion.