Year:  2022

Director:  Platon Theodoris

Release:  14 February 2024

Distributor: Bounty

Running time: 77 minutes

Worth: $15.50
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Nitin Vengurlekar, Sabrina Chan D’Angelo, Joyce Edmonds, Teik Kim Pok, Alison Bennett

… such clever fun …

“We must be wary of false prophets and furniture. Sometimes both at once …”

These are the words of Neville Umbrellaman (actor/writer Nitin Vengurlekar), an intellectual, velvet-voiced DJ, doing the midnight shift from his parents’ garage, offering his lonely, late-night listeners existential thoughts, spiked with absurdist humour. But there’s also another aspect to the tale – which won’t be revealed here – that puts a different spin on what’s going on in the garage.

Director Platon Theodoris (Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites) is also this local film’s production designer, and he’s done a superb job, especially with the garage set. The evidently low budget – at least some of which was raised via crowd funding – is transcended by sheer imagination and ingenuity.

Vengurlekar – who co-wrote the script with Theodoris – is a natural comic, and instantly likeable as Neville. Based on the actor’s own live stage show, the film has a strange rhythm all its own, which you fall into easily and quickly. It can get a little repetitive sometimes, but the occasional missteps are invariably followed by a surreal surprise, or some perfectly pitched advertising satire, to draw you back in.

A string of live guests land in Neville’s garage studio – some work better than others. Jazz band Freddy Nietchze’s Good-time Bee-Bop Quintet add a touch of easy listening radio, while Sabrina (Sabrina Chan D’Angelo), who has an all-consuming crush on the awkward Neville, is seductively amusing.

But the highlight is Alison Bennett’s Yvette, and her truly absurdist – and hilarious – monologue in French and German accents about kneading dough. If The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour becomes a cult smash, Yvette’s scene will be the first that fans learn by heart. It all feels very Pythonesque. But it’s Spike Milligan and Jacques Tati that have been specifically called out as inspirations.

Time, the fleeting nature of life, the night, vacuum cleaners … Few of the big subjects escape Neville. Even Schrödinger’s cat is there (and not there). Is there a deeper meaning under all of this bizarre banter? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s for the viewer to work out, but it’s such clever fun. The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour is that rare beast – one that’s on the cusp of extinction – a true original.

Screening and streaming at MIFF


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