July 19th, 2007 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Xpress spoke to Cashback writer/director Sean Ellis over a very dodgy line to his mobile on London while he was boarding a train.

Of everything else we wanted to ask him, the question we were looking forward to the most was about the casting of Brit glamour model Keeley Hazell in a one-scene role as a Swedish exchange student in the childhood home of hero Ben (Biggerstaff, formerly a Harry Potter extra).

She’s Ben’s first exposure to the beauty of the female form he’ll be chasing all his life through his art, and as he describes the immodest Swede walking past him from the shower to her room wearing nothing but a towel on her head, we’re treated to a long, tracking shot that follows Hazell slowly up the stairs. Did that day of the shoot, we want to ask, make Ellis’ life somewhat complete?

Instead, we get five minutes into a 20-minute interview, the line drops out and we never hear from him again. Sean, if there’s any chance you’re reading this, tell Keeley it was a performance worthy of an Oscar.

It’s just one highlight in a very professionally made movie that could have come from a Hollywood studio. Everything from the opening titles to the film stock is high quality. Ellis crafts some amazingly inventive shots worthy of a Tarantino-inspired fanboy, and every frame looks and plays great.

Not that a hyper Tarantino film student would make a love story that drifts from one topic to the next. "I never set out to make a rom-com as much as a slice of life," Ellis says before we lose him. "A lot of time something you create just takes on a life of its own and with Cashback it was left to roam a little bit and become its own little person. Life is all about laughing one minute and crying the next so that was the approach I wanted, the sort of characters we identify with and situations we’ve been in ourselves."

One of the film’s strengths is that despite being set in a London Sainsburys, and with some distinctly English characters and background, you soon forget you’re watching an English movie. It’s partly thanks to the slickness of the production and partly because — whether you like it or not — we’ve all been in the same place as the sensitive Ben following his break-up with Suzy.

"I don’t really think they’re the sort of questions you ask yourself when you make a film," Ellis says when Xpress asks if he was trying to make Cashback for an international audience. "Ultimately it’s a story about a young kid who works in Sainsburys, you don’t really think beyond that. A friend of mine sent me a short set in a supermarket and at that point I realised ‘it’s not the location, it’s the people that inhabit those stories that we identify with’."

Part fantasy, part subculture calling card, all love story, Cashback starts with a slow motion shot of a very upset girlfriend Ben’s just split with. In the weeks following, he slowly falls apart from insomnia, taking a job as a late night shelf stacker to pass the hours. At first he pays little mind to Sharon, the co-worker who’ll start to command more of his attention, continuing his search for beauty in the strange netherworld where he can pause the world for indeterminate periods.

Taking cues and homaging themes from movies as diverse as Clerks and Clockwatchers, it certainly does meander, a looseness of story not everyone will agree with. Some of the dialogue doesn’t ring true and some characters are stereotypical, but the performances are as polished as the production design and Cashback is a major arrival for a filmmaker in values if not in narrative.

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