In this world, dreams are audited and taxed retroactively. The government wants your two cents for wearing those sweet Nike shoes or eating that Big Mac. We meet our lead in one of his single room dreams where he is presented a bucket of chicken and awakens to quickly pay the tax due. It’s an absurd entry into this retro-future that might immediately turn viewers off.
The film wastes no time setting this auditor on his journey to the films, Strawberry Mansion, where he is tasked with auditing an eccentric woman, Arabella Isadora’s dreams. She’s yet to upgrade to the new USB style system and instead utilizes VHS tapes for her dreams. Thus kicks off his obsession with the woman and a budding romance with her in his dreams.
The film is a visual astonishment, one that begs the question as how they failed to make the viewer feel a single emotion while watching this forced romance. The lead character is boring and we are presented with little to nothing that resembles actual emotions out of any characters here. Are we supposed to believe that this is actually their destiny? And if so, why do we care?
Each character is portrayed with such bore that even in scenes that are meant to be exciting or creepy come of flat and tiresome. It’s the small moments with interesting creatures like a human sized frog which serves Bella at a restaurant or a crew of mice on a ship with Preble that the film feels alive. It’s a sense of wonder that I wish the film connected itself with more often.
However, disconnected the characters and story itself are for me, the visuals presented inspire an early Terry Gilliam or Michel Gonry vibe that is a joy to watch. Both directors, Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, have a real sense of world building and design that helps sell the bizarre low-fi futuristic world. Now, if only they had a better script to go along with it.
Sundance 2021: ‘Strawberry Mansion’ is a Wild Trip into Dream Auditing