Many directors try to translate dreams onto film, perhaps writing down snippets of memories before they float away, leaving their minds just as they reach for pen and paper. Nicholas Ashe Bateman spent five years creating the vision of his first feature, The Wanting Mare, and instead of fleeting pages, he immerses the audience in a dreamscape world of longing.
The horses of Anamaere north of the sweltering city of Whithren are valuable. There is a ship that exports them from Whithren to the west. Despite the sea and heat, this is a bleak place full of lost dreams and danger around every corner. Many that dwell in Whithren and the surrounding area aim to get to the western continent of Levithen with a coveted ticket aboard these ships for better opportunities despite its frozen climate.
Moira (Jordan Monaghan) grew up on the shores of Whithren. Her birth was a sombre affair, with her mother dying soon after birth, the words describing an inherited dream fading on her lips. Moira grows up alone, haunted by this dream passed down to her until she meets an injured young man named Lawrence (Nicholas Ashe Bateman). She nurses him back to health and tries to secure a ticket west with him. When he discovers a baby found on the beach, their plans and newly found love for each other take a turn and change both their fates forever, extending past their youth into the next generation.
The Wanting Mare introduces us to a promised land that is always just a ticket away, but who’s to say if escape will ever be obtained. The bittersweet dreamscape holds the pain of loss close to the heart, never forgotten but nurtured like a garden filled with thorns. It’s a film you need to watch several times, pulling something different from it with each viewing. Maybe it’s for the horse who is magical on its own, perhaps it’s with a loved one you hold close during the final credits, but it’s a film meant for dreams and rent-free space in your head.
This ambitious first feature was not only written and directed by Ashe Bateman, who also plays a young Lawrence, but he did most of the visual effects to create this mystical world. It seems as if he tried to create a direct channel of emotion from the screen to the audience, with evocative cinematography, soft hues and scenery that looked like sepia photos. It all comes together to produce something truly otherworldly in a beautiful and dangerous city filled with citizens who carry regret and longing in their pockets. The performances are understated but powerful, with Monaghan and Ashe Bateman as eternally linked lovers; and Josh Clark, Edmund Cofie, Yasmin Keshtkar, and Christine Kellogg-Darrin all bring a magical melancholy to the screen.
The story of displacement, generational pain and isolation is powerful, but the visuals are remarkable. Most of them are seamlessly added with VFX. The backgrounds look like exotic, magical realms, perhaps Malta or Greece, but the sets were mostly green screens set up in New Jersey and Maryland and a few shot in Nova Scotia. When you see the original locations mapped with the VFX afterwards, it’s truly a marvel, and you’ll find the film lingering in your heart for a time.
See The Wanting Mare in select cinemas and on-demand February 5.