“Around the Sun” is a simple, talky two-hander — just two actors, a lovely location, a little charm and lots and lots of words.
It’s a courtship of the mind with dashes of wit, dollops of melodrama and drops of Jupiter mixed in. A screenplay with literary pretensions offers up mystery, period piece concerns with just a hint of sci-fi thrown in.
Not a lot happens, but the charming twosome draws you in and makes you invest in the story, obscurant touches notwithstanding.
“Sun” tells its tale in a series of repeated scenes, shifting points of view and intent, layers of misdirection peeled away with each telling.
“Location Scout” is how it begins. Bernard (Gethin Anthony) rolls up to this chateau in Normandy, eyes popping out at the image of a pregnancy test just emailed to him. Maggie (Cara Theobold) is waiting, a pert, pretty and pleasant estate agent, here to show him the property.
He’s rattled by the phone message. She prattles on about the property, long empty, but with one bit of glorious history. The French essayist, scientist and philosopher Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle once stayed here. He is most remembered, she goes on with the barest hint of encouragement, for “Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds.”
Think nothing of the “coincidence” that Fontenelle and Bernard share the same first name.
The two of them tour the grounds, and as they are both young and good looking, we witness the most intimate conversation between a real estate agent and a film location scout in recorded history. As they are English, the “flirtation” is reserved, more implied than overt. And it’s her doing all the flirting.
She asks indirect questions about what is bothering him and they banter about something that’s more “ennui than malaise, not quite a joie de vivre.”
It takes on the tone of remembered “super-nerdy late night student chats,” all this stuff about life elsewhere in the universe, her “ex,” his seemingly pregnant wife.
“Is it just me, or doesn’t this feel really familiar?
Over 78 minutes we are treated to variations on this introductory conversation, changing perspectives, the nature of his work/reason for visit, more overt expression of her reasons for turning on the charm, laughing at his silly nothing of a joke. Once, they appear in 17th century garb, mimicking the dialogue Fontenelle set up in his “Conversations.”
Anthony, who did a season of “Game of Thrones” (Who didn’t?), is mainly a reactor here, someone who responds, in different ways in each of the different dialogues/chapters, to Maggie’s questions and revelations.
It is Theobold, who did a season of “Downton Abbey” (Who didn’t?), who piques our curiosity and maintains our interest. Maggie’s motives, her over-familiarity and her pressing on with the charm offensive, even after she spies that texted pregnancy test, raises an eyebrow even as we lean on that Fontenelle book to “explain” the story, the way it’s being told and what she’s really up to.
The roundabout, repetitious storytelling gimmick and lack of incident and drama won’t be to every taste. But “Around the Sun” is a perfectly engaging cinema essay on the lost art of conversation, the charm of romantic interrogation and the connection two people might find, in this universe or whatever alternative there might might that they’re willing to explore.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, alcohol
Cast: Cara Theobold, Gethin Anthony
Credits: Directed by Oliver Krimpas, script by Jonathan Kiefer. A Giant release on Apple TV+, Amazon Prime
Running time: 1:18