We’ve spent the Autumn months with filmmaker Chad Ritchie in his previous movies, Project October and Fields of November, and now he is ushering us into a new season with Forgetting July, his latest film. I have been eagerly anticipating new work from Ritchie after connecting with and truly loving his previous work, and so I jumped at the chance to see an early screening of this.
Written by Ritchie and co-writer Haley Garrison, the film opens without concern for traditional openings and we quickly fall into the dialogue driven world of the characters with the titular July, an aspiring model, played with confidence and energy by Isabel Magowan, right in the centre.
July, fresh off a photoshoot and with a lot obviously on her mind, runs in to an old friend, Alex, played wonderfully by Alexis Barron-Archer, who she hasn’t seen in some time. Alex also seems distracted and somewhat drowned in the noise of the city and the even noisier chaos of her own thoughts. Asking July to go with her to a country house for the weekend, the two young women retreat from the city in order to talk in the peace of the countryside.
There is a real juxtaposition between locales. We witness conversations in the city, with the buses hissing, crowds marching to wherever and the engines growling, and then we find ourselves witnessing conversations in lush green fields and along rivers, scenes that feel much calmer. The calm is mirrored in the way the characters are able to unload their thoughts and talk deeper about their lives. There are also scenes in which the two women sit together beside a campfire. These seem to offer the most personal of revelations, and definitely the darkest. The performances from Magowan and Barron-Archer in these scenes are spectacular and really left me feeling a range of emotions. The locations are really something, and become a character unto themselves as we watch our characters’ stories unfold.
An aspect of Chad Ritchie’s direction that I was drawn to in his previous works is here also. The way he frames his shots and gives a feeling of being a fly on a wall in many scenes makes things feel much more genuine. There is a freedom to the performances that likely comes from Ritchie’s fondness for improvisation in his scenes, and the actors really seem to shine because of that. The lack of shackles really adds to the film, and convinces us as viewers that these two women know each other and really care about what the other has to say. There are so many moments in this film in which we follow the characters as they talk to each other about their lives, their dreams, their regrets and desires, and it feels like we’re walking beside real people as they contemplate life and unload their feelings. It’s as fresh and invigorating here as it was when I first watched Fields of November and Project October.
At its core, Forgetting July is a story of finding yourself at a time when things feel overwhelming. It’s a story of friendship and coming to terms with where life has lead. It’s extraordinary, it bats away cliches and refuses to take routes that we’ve seen so many times before. It’s original and beautiful with performances that command attention and a style that is minimalist in the best way. There isn’t wasted movement or moments that feel pointless here, and the world that the characters inhabit, as well as the personalities of the characters themselves, feel real, lived-in and authentic.
As the film ended I was left open-mouthed by what I’d seen here. There are joyous moments to be found among the fields and concrete of Forgetting July, but there is also plenty of darkness too. The brilliant writing, exceptional performances and excellent direction create something truly special. I don’t want to give anything away, but I urge you to seek out a way to watch this film. I was left wanting more because of how much I enjoyed it, but at the same time I felt it was just right in length and ended in the most breathtaking way. A glimpse at life through grey lenses, Forgetting July is, quite frankly, unforgettable.