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Director: Vasilis Katsoupis (UK. Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece). Year of Release: 2023

We start with a voiceover telling us a story. I don’t remember it word for word, but it went something like this: “When I was a child, a teacher asked me what I would rush to save if my home burned down. I didn’t think of my parents or sister, but said instead: my sketch book, an AC7DC album, and my cat, Groucho. The cat died and someone borrowed the album and didn’t return it. I realise now that only the sketchbook really mattered. Only art is for keeps.”

My initial reaction was to think that there is some élitism going on here. “Art” (by which we presumably mean visual art) is permanent, but rock music is temporary trash. I never was never a great AC/DC fan, but plenty of music has maintained its relevance throughout my life. We are not told whether this preference of High “legitimate” Art over mere rock and roll is the opinion of the film’s writer or the until now unseen narrator, but I’m already starting to question the film’s values.

Cut to: a daring heist of a billionaire’s art collection. A lone man, Nemo, enters the security code while talking on a walkie talkie to an accomplice, known as Number 3. The owner is in Kazakhstan, but Nemo only has 7 minutes, presumably before the doors slam shut. Nemo finds a couple of Egon Schieles and a sculpture but the self-portrait he’s looking for is nowhere to be found. Nemo searches for a little time, before Number 3 tells him to cut his losses and make for the door.

As he enters the code to leave, alarm bells start to ring – quite literally. The intercom flashes that there has been a system malfunction. Number 3 bails, telling Nemo that he’s now on his own. The water cuts off and the penthouse’s temperature rises rapidly (later it will sink equally quickly). The owner obviously do much shopping before leaving for Kazazhstan. The fridge is nearly empty, and – ever worse – plays the Macarena when you leave the door open for too long.

What happens after this is very little at all. Nemo is trapped, and although he can view footage from security cameras on a huge flat screen television, he is unable to communicate with anyone outside. The owner never returns, and none of the neighbours of security guards just pops by. Nemo stacks up furniture and paintings to help him reach the massively high ceiling and try to bash a way out through the skylight, but he gains little more than a damaged leg.

Meanwhile, the once enviable are collection has suddenly lost all of its value. Away from a paying audience, it is more useful as toilet paper or firewood than anything else. This sense of worthlessness is emphasized by the soulless nature of the penthouse flat which is full of things which cost lots of money but have little practical use. The large colourful fish tanks find their value as a source of sustenance once the caviar that he finds in the fridge runs out.

Nemo’s mind starts to wander, and he tries to communicate with a wounded pigeon on the other side of the window, or with the cleaning staff, who he watches on the security cameras. On one level, the film Is about Nemo’s unsuccessful attempts to escape. This is where the film is at its least successful. Not only does Nemo show an annoying propensity to give up on a plan after it doesn’t work first time, he just never comes close to escaping.

I enjoyed Inside much more on an intellectual, metaphorical level than in a “having to sit down and watch it” way. It makes a lot of important points about the nature and value of art. The fact that we support Nemo’s throughout the film is not just down to cinema conventions which encourage you to identify with the main protagonist. We also want him to liberate art from the sort of person who locks it away in a gilded cage, and then doesn’t even look at it himself for months at a time.

In addition, Willem Dafoe’s craggy features bring a sense of interest to any film he stars in. Dafoe is on a bit of a roll lately, what with films like The Lighthouse and the Florida Project which pack a bit of intellectual depth alongside his superhero franchise outings. If a camera is to feature on one person for the whole of a film, rather the rumpled Dafoe than one of those pretty boys whose features may be symmetrical, but start to get boring when the film enters its second hour.

For long periods, the dialogue of Inside consists of Nemo repetitively issuing barely discernable groans. With a lesser actor, this would get pretty unbearable very quickly, and it is to Dafoe’s credit that we do care what happens to him. But the glacial pace of the action made me feel at least that once the film had made its (very important) point about the transient nature of art, it didn’t really have anywhere left to go.

There is a little coda, as Nemo finds the equivalent of his childhood sketch book, based on the idea that good art comes out of destruction. What Nemo creates is more relevant than the caged masterpieces which he came to liberate. You could argue that it is by continuing to be creative that Nemo retains his humanity. You could say that, but it all looks a bit pretentious written down on the page, doesn’t it? Welcome to Inside, which may be much less intelligent that it affects to be.

If you pause to think about it, the logic of Inside stinks. The alarms of a luxury penthouse are not connected to the police? The owner leaves for months at a time, although his expensive fish would die of starvation? Nemo sets off the voluminous water sprinklers, but the downstairs neighbours don’t come up to complain? This is a film which is better at dealing with the big questions than dumb simple ones. A curates egg which makes important points but is sometimes really stupid.

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