For some reason, youth culture and social allegory seem to have a thing for one another. Perhaps it’s the perceived impressionability of the young, or organized society’s tendency to reduce its subjects to children, but whenever one sees a book or a film about a group of kids — The Beach, If . . ., Lord of the Flies, etc. — often some grand statement about the human community isn’t far behind. This gets a genuinely new stylistic twist in Alison Murray’s Mouth to Mouth. Not enough of one, perhaps, but a fascinating one nonetheless.
To her credit, Murray’s film isn’t so much about kids as it is about the trappings of youth society in general. On the run through Europe, tough but sensitive street teen Sherry (Ellen Page) hooks up with a ragged street collective called SPARK (Street People Armed With Radical Knowledge). This group of former down-and-outers likes to hang out at raves and other centers of alterna-youth culture, recruiting addicts and other dead-enders to join them and kick their habits. The idea is novel: A bunch of crazy partiers go out to crazy parties and convince other crazy partiers to clean up their lives. Of course, this weird techno-fueled idyll doesn’t exactly last. As Sherry begins to feel constrained by the society around her, SPARK becomes a lot more insular and self-protective. Soon enough, our little do-gooder street collective has begun to look more like something Pol Pot might have thought up on an Ecstasy bender: A touchy-feely cult of good intentions gone mad with its own need for self-preservation.
Despite the initial originality of its subject matter, Mouth to Mouth‘s plotline begins to feel more and more rote as this nefarious side of SPARK emerges. Luckily, Murray brings a very rare energy to her work: As a former student of dance, she structures the film around choreographed scenes where the characters seem to dance out their emotions — all this without quite breaking the story’s integrity. In other words, this isn’t a movie that stops to dance, but rather eases into bizarre, hypnotic reveries of movement. This beautiful stylistic gambit works so well that the rest of the film suffers seriously by comparison. Next to Murray’s danced interludes, a ho-hum plot begins to feel even more drab. — Bilge Ebiri