The year is 2035 and government legislation requires that people’s dreams are recorded and taxed. This is the pretext for the new film from directing duo Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, a surreal exploration of fantasy’s place under capitalism, and the all pervasiveness of commercial interests. It's also a gentle, personal drama about the importance of human connection within that dire framework, and how even the most ardent cog in the machine has the potential to free their mind and embrace the mysteries of life.
Strawberry Mansion follows Preble, a dream auditor (played by Audley) assigned to an elderly woman named Bella (Penny Fuller) living in the Strawberry Mansion that gives the film its title. Alone, aside from her tortoise Sugar Baby, Bella has neglected to log her dreams for many years, leaving the backlog in need of cataloguing. Her eccentricity and warmth is a far cry from the character of the corporate drone assigned to delve into her psyche. As Preble works through the archive, Bella’s influence quickly begins to transform the tenor of his own dreams. What follows is a journey into the mind’s eye, filled with gloriously lo-fi effects and crafted with an ingenious analogue aesthetic. Like all great sci-fi, projections of what's to come are used to probe our present moment, and Strawberry Mansion’s gentle satirical edge is both intelligent and charming.
The relationship between cinema and dreams is a fascinating one. So often films are described as dream-like, and equally as often our dreams take the shape of the scenarios that have surely been implanted by movies. This symbiotic relationship is reflected in the choices by Audley and Birney, which represent cinema’s unique capacity to draw us in, and ask us to submit to the unreal.
Anyone interested in cinema’s capacity to upend reality should check out Birney’s film recommendations below, and of course see Strawberry Mansion as soon as you can.
‘Alice’ (1988), directed by Jan Švankmajer
My film professor showed this to us the first week of school and I’ve never been the same since. Švankmajer’s inspiration is all over Strawberry Mansion, from the rat sailors to the stop motion animation. To me he’s the king of surrealism. I love this quote by him so much: "Unless we again begin to tell fairy stories and ghost stories at night before going to sleep and recounting our dreams upon waking, nothing more is to be expected of our Western civilisation."
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984), directed by Wes Craven
When I was five or so I was at my friend’s house and his older sister was having a sleepover. They were watching A Nightmare on Elm Street. The only scene I saw was the iconic one where Johnny Depp is swallowed by the bed and all the blood comes gushing out. I knew what I was seeing was not meant for me, but I couldn’t look away. A few years later I rented the VHS from the local library and thus began my obsession with Freddy Krueger. This might be my favourite movie about dreams. I can watch it every October and never tire of it.
‘The Neverending Story’ (1984), directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Watched this a ton when I was young. I remember standing in the video store, totally transfixed by the VHS cover showing this kid riding a furry dragon through a night sky. The adventure felt so epic and dangerous, like if I didn’t finish watching the movie, the world would end, just like if Bastian didn’t finish the book. With Strawberry Mansion, Kentucker and I wanted to make a movie that our childhood selves would have loved. A movie that we would have rented over and over again.
‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’ (1988), directed by Terry Gilliam
One of those movies that I loved as a kid and only much later did I realise it was made by the same person who made the Monty Python animations. I’m pretty sure this movie is the reason there’s a ship in our movie. I think I read that this is Tom Waits’ favourite movie, which makes sense.
‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939), directed by Victor Fleming
This movie feels futuristic to me. I can’t believe it exists. From the sets, to the costumes, to the songs, everything is perfect. We straight up stole the pink bubble that Glinda floats down in.
‘The Wayward Cloud’ (2005), directed by Tsai Ming-liang
I was working at a movie theatre when the initial ideas for Strawberry Mansion were forming. I would write in the office and then dip into the theatre for a few moments for inspiration. There’s a scene in this movie where two characters are talking in a porno shop in front of a wall of DVDs. All those DVDs made me think of a wall of VHS, which led to a house in the country filled with VHS tapes. Funny how little throw away moments from movies can inspire you.
‘Harold and Maude’ (1971), directed by Hal Ashby
This was my dad’s favourite movie, so we watched it a lot. So funny and tragic and beautiful all at the same time. A very specific kind of heartache that I think we were reaching for in moments in our movie. For sure Maude made her way into Bella.
‘Eraserhead’ (1977), directed by David Lynch
My favourite nightmare.
Strawberry Mansion is released via Bull dog Film