Cashback taps into an area of visual enchantment that belies its exhausted subjects denudation. In its most laudable form, it deals with a latent appreciation of existence rather than the superficial pleasures of eroticism. Expanded from a 2004 Academy Award nominated short, its director (Sean Ellis) invokes the male gaze to create an unmistakable film for young men but makes admirable work of delving into the pathos of relationships with the sleek handling of temporal dissociation to explore lifes stolen moments.
Insomniac art school aesthete, Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff) realises a talent to freeze time through his imagination while working the night shift at a supermarket, something that lends him a new perspective on the world that surrounds him and an artists insight into the fundamentals of still life. Ellis addresses the tedium of menial labour and the way time seems to work in relation to ennui and the lack of mental (and physical) activity. Enraptured by coworker, Sharon (Emilia Fox), Ben starts questioning what he thinks he knows of the opposite sex.
Ellis has a stylistic handle on his film that is polished and taut for the most part. He does tend to descend into amateurish depictions of insomnia with his frequent use of time lapses. He also reaches into a dry structural well by employing some well-worn clichs to move the story ahead as well as a considerable reliance on Bens philosophising narration that threatens to hamper the mood of discovery.
Picasso famously said that art is a lie that lets us see the truth. This is especially true of Cashback in its most deplorable form, when it begins to resemble a patriarchal wet dream cavorting as existential art. A feeling of discomfort arises when Ben undresses gorgeous women by crudely lifting up their skirts and blouses while they remain frozen in time. He purports to do this for the sake of exploration, to apparently document and accept their minor flaws by drawing portraits of them while he breaches their privacy. And so, the wish fulfillment of the ignored male is then realised.
There are some legitimate uses of the gratuitous shots of bare anatomy when through flashbacks, the film comments on the soft-core pornography that continues to enthrall its legions by arguing a perennial fascination of the female form that both educates and perturbs the male sexual psyche. In Cashback, theres not so much sweetness wrought from being in the presence of ardent romance than there is a sort of erudite understanding of gender, art and sexuality.