Review: The Bestowal

by Nick Cummins

Review: The Bestowal
April 9, 2020 Nick Cummins

The Bestowal can be summed up as a conversation — one of those conversations where you lose track of time and find yourself discussing life, death, and everything in between.

This 90-minute film by Andrew de Burgh can be classed as sci-fi but it relies on its dialogue to carry the viewer. Expect no fancy CGI moments or grand fly-throughs of far-off lands because honestly, they’re not needed here. The film opens with Steven (Sam Brittan), a financially successful businessman, sitting in a dark room, his only comforts a glass of alcohol and a gun which he intends to use on himself. Out of nowhere, a visitor appears to intervene: an inter-dimensional being who takes the form of a beautiful woman (Sharmita Bhattacharya). She engages him in conversation about a wide range of topics, including good and evil, human nature, and technology.

The film is split into four acts, each with its own distinct feel and tone. A constant throughout, however, is a beige colour scheme. This and the simplistic nature of the cinematography serve multiple purposes. They keep the viewer’s focus on the dialogue and also reflect one of the themes of the film: that technology is ruining our lives. We don’t need complicated technology in order to enjoy life, The Bestowal argues, and equally the film doesn’t need distracting camera angles and complex lighting in order to tell its story. 

The narrative takes place over the course of around 40 years, and while it may seem jarring that the characters don’t visibly age, this is explained through various plot devices. The explanations are believable and fit within the world de Burgh has created. The musical score is applied sparingly, enhancing the sections that need it, and letting silence take over where appropriate to good effect.

It takes great skill to hold a viewer’s attention during lengthy periods of spoken dialogue and the on-screen chemistry between Brittan and Bhattacharya achieves this. This writer was reminded of the 2013 film Gravity, in which the story is told through an extremely narrow focus on the main character, rather than the surrounding events. In The Bestowal we hear about Steven’s experiences, travels, revelations, and enlightenment. The message — that true contentment cannot be bought and that helping others is the best way to help yourself — expands on the quote from Plato which opens the film: “Caring about the happiness of others, we find our own.”

While the film opens on a dark note, during its second act the relationship between the two characters develops and changes the nature of their respective existences, culminating in an emotional third act which plays out in real-time — a testament to de Burgh’s writing skill. The fourth and final act provides closure for both sides and leaves the viewer with questions to ponder.

The Bestowal could be considered a film for thinkers. The film’s message is uncontroversial, and one wonders whether there is much replay value here, but it is worth watching nonetheless. Holding the viewer’s attention during a dialogue-based film for 90 minutes is impressive. Recommended to those who enjoy more cerebral films.