All is Vanity  (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Marcos Mereles, UK, 2021, 72 mins

Cast:  Sid Phoenix, James Aroussi, Rosie Steel,Isabelle Bonfrer

 Review by Carol Allen

This is a first feature film from multi lingual Argentinian film maker Marcos Mereles, who has gathered an impressive collection of nominations and awards with his short films from festivals in both Europe and America.  

Shot in a bare studio in London with a British cast of largely unknown actors, All is Vanity both confirms Mereles as having talent himself and also having a gift for spotting talent.  The film itself does though have some drawbacks.

To deal first though with its many pluses.   For a start it looks absolutely beautiful.  Cinematographer Murat Ersahin has worked as a crew member on many projects but this is his first film as boss man and he is good.  Every shot is beautifully composed, lit and focussed whether the camera still or moving.  But most importantly the picture always serves the actors and the action. 

The story at first appears straightforward.  A fashion photographer (Sid Phoenix), his young assistant Luke (James Aroussi) and a make up artist (Rosie Steel) are preparing for a fashion shoot in a bare warehouse.  They are waiting for the model (Isabelle Bonfrer), who is as usual late.  Then the make up artist disappears.  

So far, so clear.   Then we realise that what we have been watching isn’t real at all.   They are all actors in a film being directed by Christopher Sherwood as The Director.  OK, nice twist. 

But there’s still the mystery of the missing make up girl to resolve.  And when the group find a concealed passageway into we know not where and go “down the rabbit hole”, that’s when Mereles starts to lose and confuse us.    Are we in multiple universes, involved in time shifting or what?    It seems the director deliberately wants us to feel lost and bewildered. 

The group of unknown actors are all excellent and Aroussi in particular is a very interesting new talent.  He’s very young – a member of the National Youth Theatre and still at drama school when the film was made – but he almost glows in front of the camera.  An actor to watch. 

And as to the director, Mereles too is obviously talented.  All Is Vanity is intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying.  What “All”, one is left asking, is “Vanity”?   Is if film making perhaps?  Or is it life itself?  Maybe in his next film Mereles could be a bit kinder to his audience in terms of letting us in on exactly what he’s saying!   The question is beautifully put.  But what is the answer?