Melanie Oates makes her feature length directorial debut with BODY AND BONES (2019), generating quite the buzz within the Newfoundland film industry. Written by Oates, is a vivid and honest coming-of-age story centering on a quiet and isolated girl in a small coastal town, and is a distinguished addition to Canadian independent film. Oates’ literary background and experience in the film industry have made for strong foundations for her initiation into features.
Having recently lost her mother, a struggling and timid Tess (Kelly Van der Burg) finds solace in the music of past local musician, Danny Sharpe (Joel Thomas Hynes). When their paths eventually cross, she soon embarks on a journey of self-actualization and experience as she follows him to St. John’s. Joel Thomas Hynes, fellow Newfoundland writer and actor known for his dark and outlandish characters, stars as rogue and disaffected Danny. A powerfully written character, Hynes lends distinctive style and experience to his portrayal of the character, a strong complement to Van der Burg’s own gripping and honest performance. Oates affably says of the process,
“I made a bunch of short films before and the struggle that I’d always had was trying to get exactly what you imagine on the page out of the performers. And with them, they were so amazing that I really didn’t have to do that much. They really embody the characters and so to have you see them come to life was an amazing experience.”
The film features panoramic views of Canada’s East Coast akin to literary pathetic fallacy; a subliminal and insightful technique used to convey Tess’ journey and her perception of it. With inspiration taken from Andrea Arnold’s independent award-winner, FISH TANK (2009), both pieces utilize static camerawork and vivid colour-scaping, resulting in reflexive allure. Oates and cinematographer for BODY AND BONES, Jordan Kennington, viewed Arnold’s film, with Oates stating, “we really loved the way that the camera moved in that and how you stayed so much in the protagonist’s perspective, which was what we really aim to do in our film.” Decisions that certainly pay off as viewers experience Tess’ reality through both artistic imagery and a cinema verité style.
Oates’ film is an unflinching gaze into the world of a young woman during her most lonely and transformative. Van der Burg’s and Hynes’ characters feel intensely real through their candid performances and Oates’ already mature and insightful writing. BODAY AND BONES is an achievement as an honest visual embrace of the loss of innocence and the gaining of experience.