All is Vanity (2021)

All is Vanity directed by Marcos Mereles is a ‘Marmite’ feature debut.

Four characters in search of a film

by Alexa Dalby

All is Vanity

A moody photographer ((Sid Phoenix), his eager intern (Yaseen Aroussi), a jaded make-up artist (Rosie Steel) and a bored model (Isabelle Bonfrer) gather for a fashion shoot in a London former textile factory (the stunning industrial-warehouse location space, Belt Craft Studios). The fashion shoot is a hipsterish production, the model turns up late, the warehouse is an on-trend loft strewn with interesting pop artefacts and they all seem rather stereotypical contemporary characters.

The shoot drags on far too long, so that the ‘team’ are forced to spend the night there, sleeping uncomfortably on sofas or the floor. The make-up artist goes missing mysteriously in the night.

When some of the remaining characters search for her, the film segues into something surreal, intended to jolt the audience out of its complacency at the earlier scenes. It’s weird but not particularly interesting. This brief film ends suddenly before the potential of this idea can be fully developed, as in Being John Malkovich.

All is Vanity is a quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes, where it refers to the pointlessness of human activity, and there are other unexplained biblical references throughout to spot, including the concluding words.

This really is a Marmite film. All is Vanity feels to me like a pretentiously clever, satirical ultra-low-budget student graduation film – (it’s Argentinian-born director Marcos Mereles’ feature debut), disjointed and surprisingly lifeless. No one really communicates. Did I miss the point? Or is it, as Letterboxd writes “[an] archly funny, endlessly inventive and reflexive puzzle piece”? Is it genre-busting and intriguing? The Upcoming generously (and fairly?) comments “definitely an ambitious piece, trying to juggle a number of narrative threads and tell a story made of smaller stories”.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. It’s up to you.

All is Vanity premiered in the Official Selection at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 14 October 2022 in the UK.

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