LFF 2021: A Banquet – Review

Release Date – 11th March 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 37 minutes, Director – Ruth Paxton

Widowed mother Holly (Sienna Guillory) begins to fear for her teenage daughter, Betsey (Jessica Alexander), when she begins to refuse to eat, and yet loses no weight. While it may initially seem as a response to grief, it may be closer to an unexplained possession.

There’s a real attention to detail when it comes to the various dishes and drinks that line the extensive family dining table in which many pivotal scenes involving mother Holly (Sienna Guillory) and teenage daughter Betsey (Jessica Alexander) play out. Plates and glasses full of colour have a dark shadow cast across them as if some form of evil has been injected into them. It’s perhaps exactly how Betsey sees what is put in front of her as what her mother sees as a refusal to eat intensifies. However, what could be a response of grief after the loss of her father could be linked more closely to possession, particularly after a not properly seen event at a friend’s party, as Betsey’s weight remains the same despite not consuming anything. Regardless tensions begin to rise between the two as heated arguments and words fly not just across the table, but across the house as a whole. Holly finds herself unable to understand why her daughter won’t eat, appearing to become scared and from there frustration rises.

While the elements relating to grief are certainly present within the eating disorder walls of the piece as the film begins to lean more into the idea of potential possession it begins to explore such reaches more. It’s around this point where things feel slightly more drawn out. The central line is good and a number of scenes, particularly the interactions led by character’s in-the-moment emotional responses, work well but when everything comes together it doesn’t quite grab you as something overly convincing. Particularly as the idea of Betsey not being in control of her own body is further explored and a feeling of being too treaded begins to settle – particularly when it comes to some of the other elements of the piece that slightly seem to fall behind the primary focus of the themes and narrative.

Despite a handful of interesting moments that focus on the worries and fears of each of the characters, relating to their family unit and how it feels to them as if it may be falling apart after their recent bereavement, overall there’s a feeling that A Banquet begins to lose itself amongst the ideas that it has in its mixture. There are some which manage to rise and work every now and then. They’re conveyed with more certainty and helped along by the performances at the centre of the piece. However, things begin to detach as certain themes and ideas take the lead and create a feeling that the film is starting to lose itself, which carries on throughout much of the third act up until the ending.

It’s hard to properly engage with what becomes the somewhat hectic nature of the piece as points are jumbled and switched and yet true uncertainty, or perhaps rather ambiguity, never properly lies in terms of what the cause of Betsey’s eating disorder is. Tensions between the family may rise, but amongst everything that’s being wrapped up and further explored in the final 20-30 minutes things get lost, and the viewer simply becomes even more disengaged from the piece. The quiet-to-loud table interactions are gone as the darkness begins to settle in. But, there’s little effect due to the sense of disengagement from the film. Pushing the feeling of the run-time and unfortunately not providing much savoury food for thought as the credits begin to roll.

While there are a handful of interesting interactions led by character emotions within A Banquet the film as a whole somewhat loses itself as it juggles between its ideas of grief and possession. It pushes the run-time and gradually as one becomes more focused upon the viewer loses engagement within the slightly over-treaded ideas.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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