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Review: Strawberry Mansion – “A weird, mad and uniquely lovely surreal romantic-adventure”

The cute mind-melter, Strawberry Mansion, is written and directed by Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley and also starring Audley, alongside Penny Fuller and Grace Glowicki.

Preble (Audley) is a tax man, yes, “Boo”, but it gets worse, in a plausibly dystopian 2035 where we can be taxed for seeing certain items and brands while we are sleeping, advertisers have figured out a way to maximise revenue by inserting product placement into our dreams. Preble’s job is to review the content of people’s dreams and tot up what they owe. Longer, louder boo. Yeah.

When Preble is tasked with auditing a delightfully eccentric elderly woman, Bella, who lives in a pink house (see what they did there?), he finds her dreams stored on thousands and thousands of videotapes and takes up residence there while reviewing the VHS dream library and adding up Bella’s bill.

While watching Bella’s dreams from the inside, via a massive piece of delightfully shonky-looking head gear, Preble quickly falls for the younger ‘dream’ version of Bella. The pair must now figure a way out of the strawberry mansion dreamland that is populated by saxophone-playing frog waiters, mouse sailors, talking flies and stop-motion skeletons, and perhaps block those ads for good in the meantime.

A weird, mad and uniquely lovely surreal romantic-adventure, Strawberry Mansion, is a wonderful one-off. The leads are immensely likeable and the whimsical sweetness of Preble and dream Bellas’s romance is a great counter to the truly bonkers madness of the dreams themselves.

Shot digitally, but then transferred to 16mm, Strawberry Mansion has that feel that only comes with film, a near-tactile sense of being able to tell that what you’re watching really exists on a physical format. That and the inherent fuzzy feelings it provokes in an age where everything shot digitally looks exactly the same elevates the cool retro-styled effects and production design.

Linas Phillips of the excellent Manson Family Vacation also features as Buddy, Preble’s “friend” in his dreams, who actually only serves to none-too-subtly advertise fried chicken and cola to him, that he not only will be charged tax for having dreamt, but also crave when awake.

With a lot of ideas and a narrative operating purely on dream logic, Strawberry Mansion can get a little too conceptual for its own good at times – a more grounded version of the real world might have helped here and made the dream time shine more in opposition – but this vivid and lucid, sweet and strange gem has a beautiful ending and heaps of heart.

Bulldog Film Distribution presents Strawberry Mansion in select cinemas and on demand 16 September.

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