Above the Clouds review (RFF)

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Our coverage of this year’s Raindance Film Festival begins with Above the Clouds – the debut feature from director Leon Chambers and a film that thoroughly deserves to break out.

Charlie (Naomi Morris) is in a transitional period of her life, having left school without the ‘sensible’ plan her parents would prefer but determined to go to art school. When her family go on holiday and she goes rooting through her mother’s wardrobe, she discovers years-worth of birthday cards from a father she never knew. Her world shattered, she sets off to find him with a provisional license and a responsible adult – a homeless man (Andrew Murton) she met in an art gallery – in tow.

The premise of Above the Clouds takes a bit of suspension of disbelief, it’s true, but once you’ve given yourself over to it the film rewards you in spades. Folding just enough whimsy into the tonal makeup, writer Simon Lord and director Leon Chambers create a heart-warming tale with plenty of humour and hijinks along the way. It’s a great road movie, but decidedly more British than your average.

Charlie and Oz’s travels also provide the opportunity to show off the gorgeous landscapes between their origin and destination, going from a sleepy seaside setting at the start of the film to the expansive, almost magical, views of the finale.

It’s a fair way into the film before the Wizard of Oz references become apparent (at least to us), with all of Charlie’s encounters helping her in some way or another along her journey. But the story does not rely on this, treating it as an easter egg for viewers rather then using the references for narrative thrust. There’s even some ruby red slippers aka converse and a bright yellow car.

Morris is wonderful as Charlie, seemingly understanding that her character is not the likeable heroine of the story, but rather the spoilt and reckless (but well-meaning) teenager many of us remember being at 18. The world at her feet and a brand new, more exciting life seemingly awaiting her, she has to go on this journey in order to appreciate what she already has.

But Murton is the real stand-out as Oz, who has to convey a curmudgeonly aura whilst simultaneously appearing like a safe companion for a young girl. The film’s dialogue reminds us throughout that ‘homeless people are people too’, but it’s Murton’s performance that ultimately sells this idea. We’re rooting for him from the get-go and, when the twist of his origin arrives, it’s packs the desired emotional punch.

Above the Clouds already feels like the gem of this year’s festival, and there’s always one, full of heart and soul and characters you can truly care about. It’s a wonderful debut for Chambers, and one we hope leads to many more outings in the future.

Above the Clouds premiered this week at the Raindance Film Festival in London, and will screen at Austin Film Festival on October 27.