Produced by Artangel, the arts-patronage outfit that has backed a wide range of visual artists and avant-garde filmmakers including Clio Barnard, Matthew Barney and Richard Billingham, this debut feature for directors Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Adrian Jackson is almost impossible to categorise. It opens cold without explanation as it introduces various non-professional participants either interacting with each other or directly addressing the camera in assorted spots around east and south London, including Brixton market and Billingsgate fish market. It is part documentary, part collectively created drama that keeps all its boundaries – between the fake and the real, biography/confession and fiction, and so on – porous and smudgy.
In the early stages, even an open-minded viewer might struggle to see where this is all going and what holds these fragmentary shards of performance and conversation together. It’s all a bit of a jumble: stories about troubled childhoods, fractured or even abusive relationships, and sudden beautiful bursts of song and rapped poetry. Without any captions to explain who’s who, you can’t identify the performers who make some bits immensely entertaining, such as the elderly man with waist-long dreadlocks who sings spirituals in tectonic baritone, or the lithe woman with a buzz cut whose vocal performance at an open-mic session is mesmerising.
The more naturalistic moments where the performers are just gassing with one another, about menopause or how to steal a bicycle, can be just as engaging but only if you absorb the material with the same amused, semi-attentive gaze you use on video art in a gallery playing on a loop. Watched in one go in a cinema won’t do the material any favours.
• Here for Life is released in the UK on 22 November.