East End Film Festival – Astraea – Review ****

ASTRAEA-PREFERRED

 

Welcome to the end of the world. It’s a surprisingly quiet affair for what it is, you know, the end of civilization as we know it, the death of humanity, all that sort of thing. With this thought-provoking film, we are transported to a post-apocalyptic America and we are pushed to ask ourselves what really and truly matters, at the end of the day, when you strip everything back down…

The world has been ravaged by a mystery disease commonly known as “The Drops” – a phenomenon where the patient’s heart simply stops with no prior warning. The reasons for these are complex and don’t really matter – the point is that most of the human race has died. The world has come to a standstill. There is no electricity, no internet and not that many people left to use any of these anyway. Matt and teenager Astraea are brother and sister. They are desperately trying to cross the country to get to Nova Scotia to join their last surviving family members. It may sound like a fool’s errand, but Astraea is psychic. She knows they’re still alive.  Along the way however, they run into something rather extraordinary. A house that is inhabited! This meeting is a surprise for everyone at first but soon Astraea is rearing to get back on the road. Matt however isn’t really keen on moving on quite so quickly. Astraea doesn’t understand… But even after the apocalypse, being an adult is just so complicated…

From the get go, Astraea plunges the viewer headfirst into a completely surreal atmosphere, set in surroundings that actually are not  (or should not be) all that unfamiliar. We join our travellers in the snowy wastes of Maine in midwinter. The snowscapes, the eerie yet striking vistas of abandoned roads and cities and the deathly quiet all hook us and draw us in straight away.

This is a world that is familiar – and yet unfamiliar. The inhabitants of this new world are forced to engage in activities we had heard about but never had to engage in ourselves, ranging from having to hunt their dinner every day to playing musical instruments and charades by the light of a gas lamp as entertainment for guests after dinner. And yet I’m sure all the characters still have their old smartphones and laptops stashed away in cupboards, their screens forever blinded but clear reminders of an era who has only just gone by. It’s easier for Astraea, she says so herself. She is only in her early teens. She doesn’t remember that much of the “old world” and what she does remember doesn’t matter that much. This new generation (how many in this generation, incidentally – 10 ? 100 if we’re feeling generous?  ) has in all probability never really used a mobile and the concept of a crowd is alien to them. And yet , as is the want of the human spirit, this new generation (in the person of Astraea) is adapting and growing, finding ways to exist in this new world.

Astraea-Dances-With-Films

For the adults it’s not that simple. The film does a clever job of pointing out how this disaster has made quick work of all the things we count on to get us through “the night”. Material wealth, religion, law,  the quest for a soulmate, even art, up to a certain point. In a world where none of these matter anymore, what are we left with? The answer is the insatiable human need and capacity to hope. It is the places Matt and Astraea find these hopes that are so different. Astraea wants to throw herself out into the brave new world and start afresh. Matt however, has been given an opportunity to construct something remarkably close to his life before the apocalypse, and he does not intend to give this up that easily…

Astraea  is a really thought-provoking and touching film that makes us question what really matters for us, when all is said and done. It is also about how we cope with overwhelming circumstance. Not to give any spoilers – but the two different ways of coping presented are compared, but not judged. This could happen, but then again so could that. What matters is to do what comes naturally to you, what will help you survive, and push on. The rest will undoubtedly take care of itself.

Astraea was screened as part of the East End Film Festival – for more information check http://www.eastendfilmfestival.com 

A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Sedef moved to London three years ago to get her MA in Film Studies and never quite got round to going back home. As she once worked in a DVD company and watched films for a living, she started a personal blog (essiespeaks.blogspot.com) as a short answer to being constantly asked “watched anything interesting recently?” and loved blogging so much she just kept typing . She is the biggest Tarantino fan she knows and would be unable to choose a single film of his as a favourite.