no_light_no_land_anywhere_1Year: 2016
Director(s): Amber Sealey
Writer(s): Amber Sealey
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Color, 75 mins

Synopsis: Grappling with loss, a woman searches for her long-lost father.

No Light and No Land Anywhere is a harrowing yet graceful look at the way we find identity and safety through family. Set amidst the side streets and back alleys of Los Angeles, director Amber Sealey’s look at isolation and loneliness is hypnotic, reaching deep into our souls as it deconstructs our innate desire to love and be loved in return. Led by star Gemma Brockis’ fearless performance, the film is intimate and inescapable, showing us how easy it is to get lost in a large city surrounded by so many people and possibilities.

Sent into a tailspin by her mother’s death and a failed marriage, Lexi (Gemma Brockis) packs up what very little she has left and takes a plane from London to Los Angeles. Hoping to find the long-lost father who abandoned her when she was three, Lexi stays at a seedy motel, luring strangers to her room at night while piecing together and trailing clues (phone numbers, scribbled notes, acquaintances) of her father’s whereabouts. Alone and in an alien land with barely anything or anyone to help, Lexi’s desperate search eventually leads to a discovery which may send her down a permanent path of ruin, or save her life.

Building on the smart simplicity of her premise, Sealey finds nuance and depth through each sensory scene, contrasting surreal moments of self-introspection with documentary-style realism. This isn’t a film we merely watch but one we take part in. All throughout, Sealey expertly constructs a psychological portrait of human connection with smart editing and focused visual compositions which push plot forward and reveal character and state of mind. The result is something primal and all too real – we can’t help but feel tethered into Lexi’s cycle of self-destruction as she reaches out to any person who will give her the time of day. Sealey’s unglamorous portrayal of Los Angeles also acts as a silent character, both witnessing and taking part in Lexi’s story by showcasing a labyrinthian maze of bad choices and missed connections. It’s a nice contrast to how the city is usually seen on film, eschewing over-stylized bright flashes of neon for a mundane, dark and disconnected setting. It’s this frank depiction that not only crystallizes the story’s themes of loneliness, but adds atmosphere and raw honesty.

no_light_no_land_anywhere_2Fleshing out Sealey’s observational approach is an intense performance from Gemma Brockis. She grounds the film’s extraordinary premise with a fear and confusion that feel palpable, but also a desperation fraught with longing. Very few performances completely immerse us into the internal struggle of a character the same way that Brockis’ does. There’s just so much range and understated nuance, using a physicality that can evoke anger, pain and frailty one minute, or an intimidating, feral delivery the next. Complimenting Brockis’ performance is Jennifer Lafleur, who plays Lexi’s half-sister Tanya. There’s a confrontation between the two which easily stands as the film’s emotional centerpiece, and the two are stunning in it, releasing the film’s pent-up anguish in a way that’s almost unbearable.

Drenched with emotional resonance, No Light and No Land Anywhere is unflinchingly honest. It can be suffocating and bleak at times, but its haunting observations on the importance of family and basic human compassion can’t be missed. This is a film that catches the humanity daring to slip between the cracks, showing the spaces where tragedy, confusion, grace and forgiveness meet.