When you write for a living, there are few things as
frustrating as writer’s block. In
his directorial debut, Gareth Jones attempts to explore not only the
difficulties of the writing process but also the structure of relationships and
the illusion of control.
Ralph (Oscar Pearce) is an agoraphobic screenwriter
struggling to work on his latest project.
He busies himself in the confines of his London flat while his wife Phoebe
(Daisy Smith) continues her career as a successful actress in a soap he used to
write. He’s hoping that a
breakthrough will restore some lost confidence, rekindle the spark in his
marriage and eliminate his growing sense of emasculation.
Struggling with writer’s block and faced with a looming Christmas
deadline, Ralph hires Néné (Tella Kpomahou), a Parisian student originally from
West Africa ostensibly to look after his neglected children but more
significantly as inspiration for his screenplay which is beginning to blur the
lines between reality and fiction.
Phoebe is initially furious that he hired Néné without
consulting her, treating her with barely concealed disdain exacerbated by her
children’s fondness for their new nanny.
But her sexual curiosity gets the better of her and at Ralph’s prompting
she sleeps with her one evening, setting in motion a chain of events which
drives Ralph into Néné’s bed and threatens to destroy their marriage.
As emotional jealousies threaten to boil over, things are
made even more complicated as Néné realises that Ralph is using her as a device
for his screenplay and refuses to slot into his preconceived ideas, demanding instead
to write her own part, and Phoebe brings a co-star (Adam Slynn) home for more
than just coffee.
It’s shot well by Alex Ryle, who manages to make the most of
the tightly constrained set and Jones’s writing and direction invests Desire
with a claustrophobic intensity – characters are closer than they should be
even before they start sharing beds.
Tella Kpomahu is magnetic as Néné who exudes a statuesque beauty and an
apparent naiveté under which lies a perceptive personality. Be careful that when you are observing,
you are not yourself observed.
However, Ralph’s intermittent voice-over is extremely
distracting as he explicitly states the conclusions of his transgressive
experiment rather than let them unfold by themselves. His laboured
pontificating about the nature and structure of desire (both the emotion and
the developing screenplay) is jarring and prevents the film from gaining any
significant momentum. This combined
with the largely confined set makes Desire feel
like it would be better suited to stage than screen.