This small scale Australian sci-fi romance has a fascinating premise, but ultimately fails to deliver.
A film about a man experiencing time in reverse shouldn't be forgettable. When it comes to The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, however, maybe it's somewhat fitting. The eponymous Aussie isn't Benjamin Button — in this curious case he ages normally, but was born with all of his memories, progressively losing them with each passing day. That means that he can remember everything that will happen, but not what has previously occurred. Alas, for viewers, this is a case of life imitating art, with the final film failing to stick in your mind for very long once the theatre lights come up.
It's not that the underlying idea behind writer-director Cris Jones' first feature doesn't stand out. One of the great things about temporal trickery and mind-bending sci-fi is that new concepts just keep coming — and Aussie filmmakers have been heartily trying their hand at them recently, as the ambitious Predestination and the excellent The Infinite Man have shown. Sadly, Otto Bloom just doesn't do much with its premise other than wrap it up in faux-documentary packaging and attempt to tell a contemplative tale of life, death, love and loss.
A cult figure who dabbles in art and gathers a following as a motivational speaker, Otto Bloom is called plenty of things over the course of his life. Jones begins the film with a whirlwind of news headlines and talking heads, and indeed, it seems there is no shortage of folks willing to offer their two cents about Bloom's strange existence. The most interesting and important of these is Dr Ada Fitzgerald (played by Rachel Ward in the interview segments and her daughter Matilda Brown in flashbacks). She first met Bloom in the '80s, named his unique condition "retrochronology", and swiftly fell for his charms. But romancing a man who only remembers your future, not your past or present, proves more than a little bit tricky.
Both Ward and Brown thoroughly steal the show in their shared role, so much so that you may find yourself wishing that the film was more about Ada instead of Otto. When neither actress is on screen, we're left with Spin Out and A Few Less Men star Xavier Samuel, continuing his spate of underwhelming roles in similarly underwhelming local films. We're told over and over that his protagonist is supposed to be enigmatic. Unfortunately, he just comes off as dull.
But that's The Death and Life of Otto Bloom in a nutshell: intriguing on paper, underwhelming in execution. Much of the film's struggles stem from its approach and structure, with the movie never making a convincing argument for pretending it's a doco. Well, maybe it does — without the repetitive to-camera chatter from the likes of the cop that first came across Bloom, his eventual manager, a fascinated philosopher and an art critic, the movie would've been even more short and slight. Either way, it's still thoroughly disappointing.