Janey is stealing booze for her abusive boyfriend one night when she crosses path with an old man named Arthur, who is knocked down on the sidewalk in the course of Janey’s escape flight from the liquor store.
Rather than leaving him, she walks the elderly man home to his flat, where he lives alone. But on this still night in a nameless night, their lives intersect in an unexpected way, leading to an encounter that will likely change the rest of their lives.
Writer-director Helena Coan’s short drama is a sensitive, emotionally perceptive narrative that takes two characters who normally would never even look at one another on the street, puts them together one night and observes the possibilities that arise when they look beyond the surface and see the secrets and struggles that make them both human.
The world of the film is primarily nocturnal, and the film’s visuals are saturated with gritty darks and shadows full of volatile unpredictability, captured by roving, even agitated naturalistic camerawork. The approach captures the tenor of Janey’s life: there’s no sense of safety or refuge, and Olivier Award-winning actor Patsy Ferran plays her with the high-strung anxiety characteristic of someone constantly scrabbling for any sign of stability or connection and never quite sure if she’ll get what she needs or even longs for in life.
The rhythm and tempo of the film shifts when she enters Arthur’s apartment, which is neglected, dark and decrepit — much like the man himself. Like his house, he’s inhospitable, even hostile. But played by actor Alan Williams with great specificity and precision, Arthur starts to see underneath Janey’s own facade, and his shift into an almost paternal inquiry — along with Janey’s own discovery of his deepest sorrow — is the fulcrum that moves the film’s subtle yet moving conclusion.
Marrying visual dynamism with emotional lucid storytelling that never loses sight of the characters’ interior lives, “Keepsake” is about taking the time to really look and consider the realities of others, with a lens of curiosity and compassion. The act of being truly seen and heard by another can be scary, and Janey herself is terrified and defensive when her own truths come to the surface. But in allowing her tight, anxious self to unravel just a bit with a complete stranger, she makes room for an act of generosity and kindness — one that will make a difference in her life, and give her the hope that all of us need to move forward.