Cosmic Divide — review

Screenplay by Bertie Gilbert.

As a screenwriter, I care about narrative. Because narrative is everything. On the first day of Film Studies, I learnt that narrative is the manipulation of time and space to tell a story. Which is where we get Bertie Gilbert’s Cosmic Divide, a motion picture I should have seen by now.

Here’s the thing: Gilbert gets motion pictures. Looking at his filmography, he obviously understand how to make ideas work. Even if his earlier work is arguably inferior to his more recent releases (though that can be said of any artist), watching what he creates shows you that he has everything in his head, understands it all, and just has to make it real. With Cosmic Divide, we get an example of how storytelling should work. And that’s because it honours an unspoken rule: stories need pace. Not necessarily a fast pace, but a consistent pace. And what Cosmic Divide does is to take everything that’s happening, present it in a way that we can understand the characters, but compile that in as less time as possible without loss of information to the audience.

That’s a basic rule of editing, too – giving the audience everything they need to see in as short a space of time as possible, without eliminating the artistic value. When you watch Cosmic Divide, you can see he’s doing this, and it’s clever. But what you don’t know is that this idea is being exploited. The twist ending looks so obvious watching it back, yet experiencing it for the first time doesn’t have this advantage. Again: that’s because the final scene gives extra information that alters what’s come before. Only, it does that by tying the two main threads together. The narrative functions with two things happening, and we switch between them, the diegetic narration being the only connection. Narration on its own can often be used as writers’ short hand when information could be shown visually but isn’t. Here, we get narration happening within the story as dialogue, just edited to become narration – an example of contracting sensory information without lossage. It’s not important to see the character recalling his story, all we need to know is that he’s doing it. And we do know that because of the sound quality as a result of using a telephone.

So these two strands are happening apparently exclusive of each other. Gilbert walks through London at night solemnly, intercut with him at home waiting for something. It’s effective because we don’t know what comes first. Is he clearing his head after the event he was anticipating, or is he on his way to it, and what we’re seeing takes place later that night? You don’t know. But we’re not meant to know. The execution of whatever happens is intentionally ambiguous, but its minimalism is what keeps you watching – it knows how vague it’s being, and all you need to do is just keep watching.

And you do keep watching. And ultimately, what the ending reveals probably wasn’t supposed to have already been known. But in so simple an exchange of shots, with costume becoming significant, everything you’ve just seen makes sense. It’s the kind of thing that Christopher Nolan accomplished with Inception, and Gilbert’s doing it here, just on a smaller scale that’s more personal.

Lev Kuleshov once made a point that audiences will assume shots are connected if placed together, and it’s always fun to see artists experiment with established conventions.

If you haven’t seen Gilbert’s pieces, the link to his channel’s on the video page.

Cosmic Divide – impressive, experimental manipulation of narrative. 8/10

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