An elderly man named Joseph gets one last chance to relive one day of his life before he dies, via a film shown in a theater by a projectionist. Choosing the day he proposed to his wife, he must agree to “stick to the script” in order for the scene to unfurl fully.
But as it happens before his eyes, he find himself wanting to make different choices and communicate something new, interacting with his wife in a whole new way. But the projectionist can’t break any rules, no matter how sympathetic she can be. As Joseph presses on to take his final scene into a whole new direction, he risks cutting it short and speeding towards his ultimate demise.
Writer-director Michael Lavers’s short romantic fantasy marries unabashedly emotional storytelling with lush production values to evoke a beautifully nostalgic sense of old-fashioned entertainment. Filled with graceful camerawork and luminous cinematography — the film was shot in 35mm — it offers a lovely testament to devotion and faithfulness, as well as the way we carry love and regrets with us to the very end.
Lead actor Robert Hardy plays the elder Joseph with great sensitivity, easily evoking the weight of long-running emotions finally getting one last chance to come to the surface. He’s supported by Oliver Tilney as a younger, more energetic Joseph, blithe and unaware with the lightness of youth, and Alice Lowe as the projectionist, who offers a warmth and empathy despite the strictness of her position.
The storytelling deftly lays down the rules of this particular fantasy with elegant economy and pacing, and then uses the looping structure of a repeated scene to explore the way grief and yearning stretch through time, connecting us to loved ones even after they’re long gone. The script and dialogue are not afraid to be unabashedly emotional, as is the soaring music and score, and as the film builds to its sweepingly romantic conclusion, it hits a grace note that is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings.
“Joseph’s Reel” is a heartfelt and sincere film, made with great finesse and unafraid of strong sentiment or soaring romance. It may be a fantasy, but it keeps any special effects on the minimal side. Instead, it helps viewers to remember that fantasy, at its core, is all about great flights of imagination and emotion — ones that can sweep us off our feet, transport us to a different time and place and evoke powerful emotions.