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ZELOS gets 5.5/10 Between the cheats

Directed by Jo-Anne Brechin
Starring Ben Mortley, Shannon Ashlyn, Ainslie McGlynn

5.5/10

An Australian made romantic drama, Zelos asks if there is any hope for a relationship once infidelity raises its ugly head.

Bernard (Ben Mortley) is a 30-something guy with a successful career, an immaculate apartment, and a girlfriend he is very much in love with. Yet when Sarah (Shannon Ashlyn) comes back from a trip to India, she admits that she slept with someone else. Devastated by the betrayal, Bernard is unsure how the relationship can survive, but Sarah has a simple and elegant solution to balance the scale – he should cheat on her.

Despite the ridiculous rom-com premise, Zelos instead makes a solid attempt to ground its relationship drama in the real world. It tries not to provide any stock answers, or to have any last minute magical realisations by the characters, in fact Zelos will often use these to misdirect and to play with audiences expectations of the genre. In that way it is certainly a smart film, aware of the genre conventions, and although it doesn’t always play against them, it at least grounds them in a reality. It is well aware of the tradition it is playing in, referencing films from Casablanca, to When Harry Met Sally, to Hall Pass – all of which have a more Hollywood approach to some of the subjects Zelos touches upon, and all of which it is willing to mix up.

However that is also the downside of Zelos. In playing things so straight, in playing against type, there is really not much there to replace it with. The result is somewhat flat, without much of interest there, beside maybe the voyeuristic aspect of seeing that couple you vaguely know go through relationship difficulty. Bernard is such a contained character as to not let audiences engage with him, while Sarah doesn’t seemed developed enough (beyond a few quirks). Neither of these are a reflection on the actors, both Ben Mortley (McLeod’s Daughters, Drift) and Shannon Ashlyn (Wolf Creek 2, Love Child) work with what they have, but you never really make that important connection. As such you are just not invested.

So, despite Zelos’s noble realistic intentions and solid production value, we are left with an interesting exploration of a relationship in danger of disintegrating that just fails to engage beyond that slightly voyeuristic tendency. It falls between the cracks, being neither fantastical enough to fit the standard romantic genre, or gritty enough to be social realism. Oddly enough this probably makes it more realistic a tale, being that it is closer to the average experience, but average doesn’t exactly make for compelling cinema.

Zelos will have a one off special screening at Event Cinemas Innaloo on January 31 – followed by a panel on sexuality and infidelity with local sex therapists as well as Perth actor Ben Mortley. Tickets are on sale now.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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