Nominated for: Best UK Feature
This mockumentary debut feature from Sebastian Armesto dips into areas of pathos and humour to create an original film that steers clear of the usual format of the genre. After a fairly shaky start of awkward laughs that don’t quite hit the mark, the exploits of the protagonist, Ben, do become fully convincing and, above all, charming.
The basic premise involves Ben, a new father to his 2-month old daughter Grace, who begins to question the identities of his biological parents, supported by his adoptive ones. Ben’s quest leads him to find that his mother is dead, and father unknown, but bonds with Peter, a man who is deaf from birth and also his supposed brother.
“a film that is positively individual”
Without knowing the fact that this is a mockumentary prior to viewing, it becomes fairly obvious in the first ten minutes. Not only does the film begin with a quote on the subject of ‘realness’ from Pinocchio, but lead character Ben, played by writer Andrew Keatley, rather frustratingly delves into full Brent-mode in an office-based scene which in hindsight seems fairly out of place. At this point during the film, it all seems a bit vanilla compared to British mockumentary greats such as The Office or This Is Spinal Tap, but luckily, For Grace then becomes its own beast entirely, and one of the most British things I think I’ve ever seen. In a good way, of course.
This feature could essentially be described as a mashup of BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and Channel 4’s incessantly vacuous reality shows (Gogglebox, anyone?), but For Grace takes the beloved quaintness of each and binds them perfectly to create Ben’s genuinely engaging and emotional journey. After the introduction of Peter who Ben, and the audience, believe is his brother, the film really gets into its stride, with some memorably poignant scenes. In particular, a set piece whereby Ben deliberates his style choice before meeting Peter properly for the first time, as if he is preparing for a first date, was acted with panache and filled the audience with chuckles. Whilst Ben’s character becomes more believable over time, Jacob Casselden acts Peter perfectly, and actually creates an air of legitimacy as if the film is a genuine documentary.
As the unlikely pair delve further into their family history, the pure tragedy of their desire to seek the truth is shown. What starts as a fairly light-hearted take on the mockumentary style becomes a piece of touching filmmaking, with the director’s choice of rustic setting, music, and interview technique all culminating in an original indie flick, even reminiscent of such successful British films as Calvary or This Is England. As a debut for Armesto, it is certainly a joy to watch, but is perhaps not as consistent as it could have been, trying to juggle various styles that don’t quite match up. Still, it was full of awkward moments, laughter and a stark message about the power of relationships, blood-related or otherwise; a film that is positively individual from a young director with plenty of potential. And he was in the new Star Wars, so…
Image: Sebastian Armesto 2016