“That is your distinguishing feature: total blandness.”

Herr Director

Chained For Life brings not only a delightfully surreal tone, but a playfulness with the cinematic form that is increasingly rare. Its anachronistic use of opening credits leads into a film set, where a low budget movie is being shot in an old hospital. Writer/director Aaron Schimberg’s clear intention is to satirise the obsession with beauty and perfection in both filmmakers and audiences, populating the fictional film’s extras with circus sideshow performers who are left in the hospital when the others retire to a hotel each night. This is filtered through the perspective of the film’s star, Mabel — she cannot stomach being around a woman playing a disfigured version of her character, though she finds herself drawn to the charming Adam Pearson as her shy co-star Rosenthal (the character shares his neurofibromatosis). Rosenthal understands his appearance makes him an outsider even as others over-correct, feigning that it makes no difference — in one excruciating scene Mabel, believing herself to be helpful, blithely demonstrates emotive expressions that his face cannot mimic. Schimberg creates deliberate confusion as to when we are watching the film within a film, as seemingly candid conversations are exposed as artificial only when the scene is cut and reset. Movie aficionados will enjoy liberally peppered references from Tod Browning’s Freaks to The Muppet Movie. Although Chained For Life’s fluid reality may not appeal to everyone, by fully embracing its absurdist sensibilities Schimberg has produced a wonderfully idiosyncratic fable.