Kicking off my coverage of Scandinavia, nay, the world’s best documentary festival CPH:DOX, is the British project Dreams of A Life. Directed by Carol Morley, it’s an evocative piece, using a flabbergasting personal story of loss and isolation to tell a more general truth about regret and societal disconnect. Well, it tries to, at least.
On January 25th 2006, 38-year-old Joyce Vincent was found dead in her decrepit London flat. The evidence supporting her cause or time of death is unknown, but it’s assumed that her body had been left rotting there in front of the TV for at least three years. Over such a staggering period of time, no family or friends filed any missing persons’ reports, attempted a catch-up call, or even considered sending the poor woman a Christmas card. A loveable, beautiful and once happy woman, she was erased from society’s memory. Beguiled by a ‘stranger than fiction’ news piece, Morley was compelled to play detective, and setted out on a documentarian’s journey to pick up the pieces of Joyce’s forgotten life.
Dreams of a Life could have been a truly fascinating social commentary about the selfishness of isolated urban living. The extremist example of when you see a someone crying by the roadside but pretend to ignore it. We’re all culprits to it, yet we fail to change. Instead of shining a mirror on us all, Morley fills 95 minutes of screen-time with lugubrious talking heads of the ex-friends, colleagues and boyfriends in Joyce’s life. Some feign regret, and others sound deeply troubled about never contacting Joyce, but Morley fails to push any sense of antagonistic, probing journalism to their bone-idlesness.
It’s a shame, as the bizarre chain of events are worthy of Errol Morris’ caliber speculation. Unfortunately, Morley doesn’t have that same devotion to the veracity (or lack thereof) to the story, and instead dilutes the investigation through elaborate, but well-acted dramatisations of Joyce’s alleged troubled upbringing, starring dead-ringer Zawe Ashton, and people dressed in post-mortem gear shuffling around a dreary apartment. Based on hearsay, the artistic reenactments end up falsifying the bitter truths laying neglectfully underneath, causing even more emotional disconnect than what we started out with.
I wish Morley could have been more bold, more openly critical. Failing to be anymore informed on the chilling true story, Dreams of a Life‘s main problem isn’t with the lack of answers, but it’s lack of questioning.
CPH:DOX is one of the world’s biggest film festivals dedicated to documentary practice, with an interest in particularly experimental audio/visual work. You can follow all of my coverage here. For more info please visit the festival website.