As the elusive Penny Lane in Almost Famous says, “It’s all happening!”Almost Famous/ Pinterest

Content Note: This article contains brief mention of loneliness and sexual harassment

24th December 2019. I was looking back on the year, as most people tend to do in its final days, trying to figure out what I had learnt. The act of reassuring yourself that you’ve made the most of another so-called ‘important’ stage of your life, in one way or another, does something to combat the inevitable feeling of slight melancholy when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

For me, 2019 was a chaotic year of constantly uprooting myself, and then desperately trying to put roots down somewhere else before having to leave again. Otherwise known as a gap year spent travelling Europe.

Something I hadn’t anticipated when planning for this was the loneliness. Friends don’t just appear out of the woodwork when you’re a teenager living alone in a foreign city, and there is no establishment like university which will surround you with other lonely people who are also looking for new friends. For a while, before I found my bearings, my only constant companion was films - the neutral, accepting space of a dark, empty cinema, or my phone on a cross country bus journey.

YouTube/Tilda Butterworth

And so, sitting in front of my laptop on the 24th of December, I decided to revisit the films which had kept me company on my travels. I made a list of my favourites, sourced the clips,  and created “2019 IN FILMS”.

After several hours of intense editing, during which I obsessed over grouping together similar elements in order to create some kind of flow between the very different narratives, I watched the video as a finished project, and felt unexpectedly emotional. There was something overwhelmingly joyful about seeing this collage of moments which had influenced and guided me so much. I felt secondhand nostalgia for things I have never lived through and most likely never will, but nevertheless somehow experienced alongside the familiar characters.

"Since most of the dialogue went over my head, I found myself noticing even more details of the cinematography than I usually would"Cold War/Twitter

In January I was interning in Sweden, living on an island on the outskirts of Stockholm. I knew nobody except my host family. It reached a low of -13°C and I would spend my nights wandering the city in the constantly falling snow, relishing being solitary. In a desperate attempt to avoid going on a date with a man I’d met in one of my classes, I ducked into a cinema and watched Cold War (dir. Paweł Pawlikowski), a Polish film, with Swedish subtitles. The man selling the ticket asked me if I was Polish, and then laughed at me when I said I was going for the experience of not understanding anything. Since most of the dialogue went over my head, I found myself noticing even more details of the cinematography than I usually would, and concentrating on the most subtle changes in emotion on the characters’ faces. I still don’t know the majority of the plot but I emerged from Grand Sveavägen cinema feeling somehow changed, and convinced of the power of escapism when navigating new, unknown territory.

In March I watched Carmen y Lola (dir. Arantxa Echevarría), in a film production warehouse in Berlin as part of the Feminist Film Festival. The film tells the story of two girls living in a gypsy community outside Madrid, whose friendship turns into a romance which begins a rebellion against the conservative values of their families. It was my first month in the city, and again, I knew nobody.

"The message of the film stayed with me - don’t let anyone try to control you"Carmen y Lola/Twitter

Not only did the film itself make me feel safe and accepted, but the huge audience of young female creatives did too, as did the open, affectionate laughter at the awkwardness of the teenage characters. There was a sense of, “We’ve all been through this, in some shape or form,” which united us. Strangers who had been shy of speaking to each other before the film were pouring out their life stories and exchanging numbers afterwards.

On the way back from the warehouse, I was sexually harassed on the U-bahn and followed off the train, with the Feminist Film Festival poster visible in my bag. The irony was almost laughable. But the message of the film stayed with me - don’t let anyone try to control you.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Axolotl Overkill, My Days of Mercy, and so many more.... all of these films came to me at the exact moment I needed them, and provided messy, loveable, and wonderfully flawed visions of humanity which emphasised the idea of ‘life’s rich tapestry’ that I kept having to repeat to myself like a mantra.


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As the elusive Penny Lane in Almost Famous says, “It’s all happening!” Some experiences are sad. Some experiences are scary and utterly overwhelming, and some experiences are cinematically beautiful but inevitably have to come to an end. Films remind me time and time again that the euphoric highs and the subsequent lows are what make up a character’s journey. There doesn’t have to be one narrative arc - there will be many, throughout your life. And how could there possibly be character growth without moments of crisis?

Going into the new year, I want to keep the attitude towards cinema that I developed while travelling, and encourage others to do the same. Sometimes, when you so desperately want to escape from your situation but it seems as if there are no means of doing so, everything feels claustrophobic and impossible to surmount. This isn’t the case, because there is always a way out. Take the time to clear your mind of everything, put your phone away, sit down in front of a film and lose yourself (and find yourself) in it for a few hours. I promise you won’t regret it.

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