SHORT FOCUS The world’s premier short film journal.
‘Cubicle’ Apr-Jun 2022
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When it comes to putting together an issue of SHORT FOCUS magazine, the question inevitably arises of what exactly the perfect short film consists of. It forces me to consider what elements made me fall in love with the medium in the first place. I think of the television commercials that would indelibly etch their way in-between courses of evening soap operas, or the back-toback, genre-hooping curations of music videos rolled out across chart show countdowns via terrestrial, and later, satellite-based broadcasts. I remember the late-night programmes of extreme, bizarre, and ground-breaking fictions from the minds of global indie filmmakers and animators beaming right into the darkness of my living room. It didn’t occur to me in those days that what I was watching were meaningful works of art, carefully created stories, or meticulously and collaboratively designed productions. So much was taken for granted, but something just kept pulling me back. I loved how complete stories and entire worlds could play out in the space of just a few minutes; how I could voraciously gather up a large variety of thrills, frights, and pleasures in an hour or two; how I could be transported through time and place and back again at kettle-boiling speeds. As I grow older, that obsessive fascination remains, and I am, probably, no closer to pinpointing what exactly keeps me coming back to this medium. Putting together this magazine and its eponymous annual festival with likeminded film enthusiasts is probably an attempt at getting to the heart of it, but is most certainly a gesture of appreciation to the filmmakers that have brought so many of us endless joy, education, conversation, and escapism over the years. Perhaps, in the scheme of things, it’s only a small reciprocation but, nevertheless, one sentiment endures… We believe in the power of short film. Editor: Dean Archibald-Smith Creative Directors: Dean Archibald-Smith, Aya Ishizuka Contributors: Giulia Carbonaro, Fung Ying Cheng, Juliette Howard, Matthew Procter, Sally Roberts, Will Whitehead.
FLTV = Film is available to watch on FLTV. Advertising queries: email@example.com The online version of this journal is interactive. To engage with content, click on the title of a film review or the company logo of an advertisement. Where you cannot click on a title, there is no content available. Articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinions and attitudes of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the publishing or editorial team.
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A Simple Haircut
Dorothea Sterian, Romania, 2020
Simple Haircut is a beautifully minimalist documentary of the ordinary devastation that grief and old age can incur. Its premise – an old woman getting her hair cut – is underpinned by a wealth of emotion, and the juxtaposition of the two works to emphasise each, not to undermine either one. Although (as the title makes clear) simple, the film is anything but basic. As the woman has her hair cut, she tells the story of her husband’s stroke and eventual death – a harrowing and deeply affecting story, which is told with heartbreaking frankness.
The film opens with the woman complaining about her hair. She is concerned that it has become lacklustre and has not had the attention it requires to look good. The fact that she still cares, has not given up on it, is immediately striking. Although we are not yet aware of the sadness that has recently coloured her life, her insistence on living life as she always has, not succumbing to the nonchalance of old age, is touching.
Equally touching is the mundanity of the ritual itself. Her hairdresser puts newspaper on the floor as the woman struggles to button up the shirt that she is using to protect her clothes, and the television plays in the background. Shots of the woman’s house indicate a life being very much lived, with ordinary mess and clutter abounding in the small space.
The simplicity suggested by the film’s title is incredibly present, and we as an audience feel ingratiated into a very personal, unsophisticated life. As the woman begins to tell her story, it does not feel forced or shoehorned in, but a natural topic of conversation, which is understandably consistently present in the woman’s life. The story itself is told with a sincere and earnest love that is heartbreakingly touching – grief not rooted in the dwelling on trauma, but in an undying and deep love that can no longer be requited.
A Simple Haircut’s sadness unveils itself slowly, and never overplays itself. The emphasis of the film is not on the bleakness of the woman’s life, but on how the inevitable traumas of life inflect and are folded into mundane existence. Despite the horrors of grief, the woman persists in ordinary life, and is still concerned with the elements of her day-to-day existence that aren’t life-changing or enormous.
The short is filled to the brim with affection and love, a love exemplified by the dedication in the film’s credits, ‘with immense love and gratitude, to the only grandparent I have alive’. A Simple Haircut presents an honest and unsentimental account of the effect grief has on existence, which is all the more powerful for its profound simplicity. Will Whitehead
Pavel Brenner, USA, 2020
he BMX bike has long been a visual staple of the 80s film. Secluded towns call for a form of transportation, particularly for a group of bored kids who are just trying to make the most of their summer. Cult classic The Goonies [Richard Donner, USA, 1985], for instance, saw the eponymous gang cycle their way to the Fratelli’s hideout, an abandoned restaurant, which coincided with the treasure map found in one of their attics. More recent examples include the squad of It [Andy Muschietti, USA, 2017] biking away from their worst nightmares in Derry, Maine, or the Stranger Things [USA, 2016 –] ensemble, who peddled with oversized handlebars in search of their lost friend. However, in Timesink, there is something distinctly different: while Mikey, Bill, and Mike all rode in packs, the protagonist of Timesink is seemingly alone in the world.
In what appears to be a somewhat established apocalypse, a lone boy (James Farah) cycles on a road surrounded only by trees and abandoned vehicles, inscribed with ‘HELP’, overflowing with forgotten personal belongings. Nothing is said: with only a bike and backpack for friends, this boy could be cycling home were it not for the evident chaos around him. And yet, he is strangely calm, pedalling past barricaded ambulances without a second glance at them. Is it unflinching passivity, or a protection, an inner strength he has built up to deal with havoc and loss?
At three minutes long, Timesink is a music video for the artist Lorn’s song of the same name. The boy’s indifference to his surroundings compliments the relaxing theme, which almost sounds like the rhythm of a bicycle chain at times. Even before Covid-19, Brenner imagined a scenario where humans had been wiped out by a pandemic, and focused in on possibly the sole survivor, using the world as his personal playground and body bags as obstacles. Both the setting and the soft melody of Timesink might highlight quiet, emptiness, but they are also intensely alive. The boy’s backpack sports a little Barney the Dinosaur figurine, his high school style blazer is littered with badges – there’s something vaguely disconcerting about the idea of childish games and symbols being associated with apocalyptic mess and, evidently, death.
Music and image move together, changing path and tone in unison as nature supersedes humanity slowly but surely. Visually, it is stunning as well, combining gorgeous overhead shots and close-ups of the to and fro of the boy’s feet pedalling into nowhere. We do not see his face until the very end, and though there is not much of a structure to the short, this feels like the high point, the denouement of this understated journey. Farah is positively magnetic, and one is even slightly disappointed his silent stare wasn’t introduced earlier. Timesink is short but poignant, and at the culmination, it almost feels like a dream, a flicker of a parallel universe – much like, it seems, the pandemic itself. Juliette Howard
Across the Sun
Sékou Neblett, Ghana, 2020
ékou Neblett’s Across the Sun is a gorgeous, enthralling piece that draws the viewer in with lush visuals and score, and effects a lingering poignancy. Its brevity renders its impact even greater, a burst of power that practically demands multiple watches. The film features two actors, Nuerki Nortey and Nana Kwasi Wiafe, almost always accompanying one another, simultaneously together and apart. They pose, calmly but purposefully, in a range of locations from decaying urban spaces to lush forestry. As they do so, a poem is recited, and the film’s score swells and swirls around the piece. The film cannot be summarised in terms of narrative, its effect being primarily subconscious and ineffable.
The film’s lyrical qualities lead us to view the piece as one continuous whole, not split into its visual and aural elements but a holistic experience. Its visual qualities – the gorgeous colours and details designed and curated by director of photography, Daniel Obradovic – are dazzling to behold, elevating and emphasising the physical performances by Nortey and Wiafe. Its shots are punctuated by the breathtaking score by Tro GMBH and Markus Sasse, deepening the visual elements at times and at others taking flight on its own. Each element works together in total harmony, creating a work of art, which is far greater than its substantial parts.
A particularly powerful element of Across the Sun is its protagonist’s performances. Frequently posed against the background in tableau vivant style, the two are as much a work of art as the gorgeously composed scenes behind them, causing the distinction between scenery and character to become blurred. The two feel entwined, truly inhabiting the spaces and allowing those spaces to inhabit them simultaneously. However, the two actors frequently fix the camera with a self-assured, unblinking gaze, challenging the viewer and refusing to allow themselves to fully blend into the scene. We are made constantly aware that they are aware of us as much as we are of them, and this is a potent statement of power.
Politics are not at the forefront of the film, but there are moments where the political bleeds through, such as in a shot that sees both actors raising a fist, dressed in leather coats à la the Black Panthers. While incredibly brief, it reminds the audience of the inescapability of political existence, of Neblett’s conception of blackness, and its relation to politics. The film does not dwell entirely in this realm, however, and the frequent shots of the two actors in a loving embrace indicate that, for Neblett, love and power are not dichotomous but can in fact dwell in the same space. This is emphasised by the frequent cuts between the urban and the rural in the film, another perceived dichotomy, which here exists in harmony. Across the Sun is an incredibly focused and assured statement from Seblett, one which defies simplicity and rewards careful consideration while emanating a resonant beauty. Will Whitehead
Richard Paris Wilson, UK, 2020
riginally conceived as a music video, director, Richard Paris Wilson, creates a subtly moving story about how a young man processes his deep-seated guilt. True to its roots, Clean features no clear cut approach to its sequencing, but its focus on a universal theme makes the film easy to empathise with. Martin’s (Nobuse Uwaifo) day takes a strange turn at a launderette when his washing goes missing, becoming sucked into a secret world à la Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland. From there, he is prompted by the Edgar the Cleaner (played by Victor J. Griffiths) to find his clothes elsewhere. Each new part of the world reveals a different aspect of the world’s cleanliness and, as Martin ventures further, some of his dirty secrets. Uwaifo matches the emotional beats of the character step-forstep as the story unfolds and reveals Martin’s increasing internal struggles as they bubble to the surface towards breaking point.
One of the most striking aspects of Clean is its set design. From the sharp circular reds featured in the tunnels, which are reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey [UK/USA, 1968], alongside a grey-blue tinge that permeates some of the quietly intimate scenes, there’s both a sense of danger and isolation on Martin’s journey through the secret world of the launderette. With a stronger leaning towards the visuals rather than dialogue, Uwaifo steps up to the plate wonderfully as he walks us through Martin’s emotions with delicate strokes.
The sound design by Seb Bruen is quietly haunting and pairs well with the colours of the film, whether they be the solid blue walls of the launderette or Martin’s forest green hoodie. These mesh well together by contributing to the underlying sense of grief at play, but also refuses the tendency to strongly signal any particular era, which provides the film with a unique and timeless quality in both sound and aesthetic.
All in all, Wilson has finely woven the linens of Clean together with a strong leading performance by Uwaifo alongside deft production work from the film’s crew. The plotting of the film is seamless, allowing the pacing of the film to move at a brisk pace. While Martin struggles to navigate the world of the launderette, the excellent visuals and sound design will make it a breeze for audiences to find their way through. Fung Ying Cheng
Madja Amin, The Netherlands, 2019
hen a man falls to the ground with a wedding ring, a lamb, and a suitcase, it is not immediately apparent if we are in a dream or a nightmare. Madja Amin’s surreal film takes on tradition, fate, and sacrifice as visual language, and heavy symbolism is given centre stage.
One theme that stands out is the sense of unavoidable rite of passage. As the protagonist makes his way to his arranged marriage, his journey is littered with foreshadowing. The image of the lamb is perhaps the most striking, at once innocent and inevitably sacrificial. Accompanying this is the zaghrouta, which, although it is originally intended to express happiness and celebration, is here contorted into a warning siren. These unhappy omens seem to tell both the viewer and the man that there is no escaping his dark ending.
This sense of a fixed path is juxtaposed by the character’s complete dislocation from the setting. As he makes his way through an anonymous European setting, he is repeatedly ignored by those around him – even the camera keeps its distance. Although this is supposedly a man on his way to be wed, he is completely devoid of connection.
It is unsurprising, then, that there is very little dialogue in this film. Instead, colour does most of the talking. Crimson, marine, and white flood the screen at regular intervals, and as well as being aesthetically appealing, they express more of the characters than the script. For example, the man’s blood red suit seems to gesture to the sense of violence and pain that accompany him (and the doomed lamb) to his wedding. Although some viewers may be left more confused than entranced, Stray Sheep provides a space where surrealism and tradition intersect in a visually arresting and symbolically rich landscape. Sally Roberts
Thea Hvistendahl, Norway, 2014
aen Ta is a bittersweet, idiosyncratic film that revels in the weirdness of ordinary people. Its surreal and quirky aesthetic is underpinned by a beating heart of affection for its characters, which extends to the audience who will find it hard not to fall for its cast of weirdos. The video, a companion to Kaja Gunnufsen’s catchy electro-pop song of the same name, takes the form of a dating tape for a variety of people who spend the video showing off their interests and passions to any number of potential partners. As the film progresses, we see that the vibrant and unusual lives of each character masks a desperate sadness, and we are left with a sense of deep loneliness.
The film’s visual style is gorgeous; an uncannily nostalgic nod to dating tapes of the past, it recalls a less obsessive Wes Anderson and creates an entire world for its participants. From the start, we feel as if we are immersed in the personalities of the film’s characters. Each shot, a static composition with the character the only moving element and lasting around five seconds, feels like an extension of the character’s mind, a reflection of the unique oddity of their passions. It is impossible not to feel a sense of warm affection as each eligible singleton beams at the camera, showing off their DJing skills or their favourite sushi restaurant. No one shies away from who they are; there is an enormous sense of pride in even the strangest of hobbies on show here, a pride that is infectious and joyful.
Faen Ta does, however, have a dark underbelly. An internet translation of its title suggests that it means ‘fuck you’, a title which appears ironic at first glance. However, upon careful viewing of the video, cracks begin to show in the joy of its characters. After the initial grins each participant gives the character, a sadness creeps onto their faces. We start to see each shot as a reflection of profound loneliness, a cry into the void. Although ostensibly secure in their idiosyncrasy, each character is chronically solitary, their hobbies and passions desperate attempts to escape loneliness. The cinematography, at first a quirky gimmick, starts to feel deliberately isolating, trapping the characters in a static shot, boxed in by their own strangeness.
By the end of the video, we see the characters almost give up, smoking alone in their bathroom, throwing up in their garden, or simply watching television alone. The film, much like the song it accompanies, masks a dark cynicism with lush aesthetics and an ironically chipper demeanour. Faen Ta, in both form and content, is a masterful reminder that not all that glitters is gold. Will Whitehead
here is no shortage of nerve-gripping, bone-chilling, and brutal scenes set in public toilet cubicles in the horror genre. And yet not many such scenes begin with a woman whipping a pregnancy test out of her purse. Our main character – whose aesthetic is vaguely reminiscent of the provocative protagonist in Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag [UK, 2016–19] – is introduced to the neon-lit, antiseptic environment of a public toilet glowing with an ominous green halo.
Chloë Wicks, UK, 2019
She goes through the less-than-elegant process of taking the test with trepidation and impatience, as we observe her clear feelings of disconcertment as she regards the result. With little time to absorb the news, she overhears the groans and moans of a couple who have entered the cubicle next to hers. This initial intrusion is initially approached with mirth, in quiet disbelief at the irony of the situation. Her smirk then turns to a frown as the sounds of the woman’s pleasure in the neighbouring cubicle transform into suffocated cries of pain. As the attention of the viewer is drawn towards what is taking place next door, the camera remains resolutely focused on our protagonist.
There are barely any words spoken in the film, but Cubicle is anything but voiceless, with its sinister, eerie soundtrack maintaining the momentum for the duration of the film, building up tension through a few carefully revealed details. With its minimal, sleek, and claustrophobic cinematography, Cubicle makes for a beautiful watch but, more importantly, it is a film with something to say. Motherhood and pregnancy are familiar themes to the horror genre, where women are often the involuntary hosts to some alien and malignant force, as in the iconic Rosemary’s Baby [Roman Polanski, USA, 1968] or, more recently, Mother! [Darren Aronofsky, USA, 2017].
In recent years, female directors have embraced this trope, owning and twisting it as Alice Lowe does in her black comedy-horror Prevenge [UK, 2016], in which a woman goes on a brutal killing spree, allegedly by the will of her own vengeful unborn child. With Cubicle, British director, Chloë Wicks, inserts herself into this category of female directors, destroying and reconstructing the traditional narrative around motherhood in films. The feeling of horror in Cubicle isn’t induced by the reversal of male expectations of how women should experience this life-changing moment – traditionally considered the climax and the biggest joy of a woman’s life – but by highlighting the challenges and hardships that a pregnancy carries for a woman, especially an unwanted pregnancy.
Mothers in films are often of two kinds: the ‘good mother’ – supportive, self-sacrificial, celebrated as role models – or the ‘bad mother’ – nonconformist, free-spirited and unconstrained by the patriarchal fantasy of the sweet, sanctified Madonna. Bad mothers are often punished in films with gruesome deaths and sometimes with an even worse afterlife, as in the case of Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho [Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1960]. More films like Cubicle are needed in the film industry, films which allow women who are terrified of having children to have their voices heard and their opinions normalised, instead of silenced and condemned. In a time where parts of the world are tightening their grip on women’s rights and their sexual autonomy, there is an urgent need for more representation in cinema (and culture in general), of women who exercise their right not to be mothers. Giulia Carbonaro
INTERVIEW Keeping it locked with Chloë Wicks, director of Cubicle. Giulia Carbonaro: How did you come up with the idea for Cubicle? Chloë Wicks (pictured left): It was a collaboration with brilliant writer and my friend, Stefan Kaday. We were interested in motherhood and identity. I’d been mulling over the idea of a character taking a pregnancy test but it was more of a drama, which felt too familiar to me. Then Stef, who has really great genre instincts, sent me a horror idea. It was all set in a single toilet cubicle, a premise I immediately loved. And it didn’t have any dialogue, which felt like an appealing challenge as it would rely on visual storytelling as well as the build up of sounds around this character. We teased it out further from there, thinking about what might happen if she were to leave the cubicle – how her fears could unravel and mess with her, and with the audience. GC: The aesthetics of the film, and its colour palette, seem very well studied. How did you decide what you wanted Cubicle to look like? CW: I was keen for the film to have a strong visual aesthetic that would make the toilets feel heightened, strange, even a bit seductive, an environment you can just feel in your bones is going to produce some kind of crisis. So it was a case of hunting around in London for the right toilets! My phone camera reel ended up looking a bit odd. Eventually, the perfect location turned up. I was struck by the green row of cubicles; they felt like they would somehow embody the idea of nature closing in on this woman, which sounds weirdly specific but it felt right visually. I also wanted the character (played by the wonderful actress Charlotte Hamblin) to have quite a monochrome, classic look – short curly hair, dark clothes, shoes, bag, only a slash of red lipstick to suggest the more sexual, social side of herself that she may be anxious about losing. I wanted her to look a bit timeless, an echo of so many women who have felt trapped by male violence, as well as apprehensive about impending motherhood.
GC: What were the challenges or benefits of filming in such a constrained space?
GC: How did you interact with the horror trope of the bathroom cubicle, normally the stage of extra-gory scenes in most films?
CW: The tiny, narrow cubicle forced us to focus on what we needed to tell the story – nothing more – which was actually the goal before we even had a script. We gave ourselves certain parameters: a running time of less than five minutes, one location, one actor, one day’s filming – an exercise in concise storytelling. I love singular settings or time restrictions like this because they create an intense burst of creativity that can produce something unique (or bad – which we were prepared for!). I find other films in this vein very electric and immediate. There was also the practical desire to make a film that would be simple enough not to require lengthy applications to funding bodies or a drawn out process getting a bigger budget together. So we spent less than £200, got a crew of five people together and spent the day in a toilet. It was great fun.
CW: Bathroom cubicles, especially shared ones, can feel quite exposing, which makes them a useful environment to tap into fear. Rather than showing anything explicit, I felt interested in exploring more of a psychological unraveling, and looking at how a confined space might make someone feel vulnerable. There’s an element of strange voyeurism with public bathrooms. Everyone has to use them and we all feel that strange proximity to others when we’re in them. In Cubicle, there’s also more of a focus on sound ‘gore’ – she can hear something horrific happening in the cubicle next door but the visuals are left to her imagination, and ours. GC: How did you explore and engage with the theme of motherhood in horror films?
CW: Some of my favourite horrors and thrillers are centred around motherhood: The Babadook [Jennifer Kent, Australia, 2014], We Need to Talk About Kevin [Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA, 2011], Rosemary’s Baby [Roman Polanski, USA, 1968]. It’s a ripe area to explore in horror because it’s such an extreme life event – an intensely physical experience, yet also deeply psychological. With Cubicle, we’re exploring how the possibility of having a baby can feel like a huge expansion of your world but also an end, a death to a version of yourself too.
GC: How does Cubicle fit with your previous work? CW: At the time of making Cubicle, which is over three years ago, it was actually a departure from my previous shorts, which were all mostly dramas. I’m quite a jumpy person and I found the idea of deconstructing fear very appealing. As a filmmaker, I was drawn to the clear intention of suspense and pay off within horror. Drama can often feel a bit murky in terms of intended effect, whereas with horror, your goal as a storyteller feels clearer somehow. GC: What are you working on currently?
GC: Would you consider this a horror about the constraints of motherhood? What message did you want to convey?
CW: I’m currently in post-production on a romantic comedy TV series called Flatshare for Paramount+ and I’m writing a feature film.
CW: I’d say it’s more about the anxieties we can have about our identities and how we might change irreversibly. Becoming a parent really is one of those rare one-way rivers of life. You can’t get a refund and I think the enormity of this can be quite existentially troubling to consider, even if, overall, you really want children.
Cubicle is available to watch now at www.framelight.org/fltv
Dustie Carter, USA, 2021
ip-hop and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [John Hughes, USA] are two forms of entertainment that don’t typically go hand-in-hand, but the opening shots of Square Up indeed invoke strong comparisons to John Hughes’s 1986 classic. Dustie Carter’s narrative music video follows rapper Mvstermind’s pursuit of his repossessed car, or rather, the mysterious box that’s stored in the boot that’s worth far more than the vehicle itself.
Mvstermind’s journey through St. Louis begins from home when his car is towed, but he refuses to let it go without a fight. Through gardens and back streets, he races after the repo man on foot, the car always just within his sight. Until, that is, he briefly loses it and stops off at a convenience store to catch his breath. Here, we unknowingly catch a glimpse of what Mvstermind is really after. More obstacles stand in his way, but the rapper eventually reclaims his car… only to find the box missing from the back, leaving one more hurdle for Mvstermind to overcome. Carter’s take on this short story is an energetic one, the frenetic pace combining with erratic handheld camerawork from cinematographer, Mike Dalton, to perfectly mesh image and music. The decision to go with a grainy film look, along with wardrobe and set designer, Emily Pfeiffer’s work gives the music video a convincing sense of nostalgia, which is perhaps a little unoriginal right now, but executed well in Square Up. The story developed for the video leaves something to the imagination in the end, with Mvstermind’s true motive for retrieving the box being left unclear. The contents of the box have financial value, but is there more to it than that?
Expectedly, the editing and sound design here (by Sam Baiamonte and Colton Jackson, respectively) are both excellently crafted to complement their accompanying song, with great sound mixing and cuts that keep both the narrative and rhythm moving simultaneously. Even the on-screen text aids the tempo, edited in sync with the music.
Carter and co. have managed to craft a concise, well-written (if somewhat open-ended), and expertly produced short film that, from an outsider’s perspective, seems to capture the daily struggles of Mvstermind’s roots. A more grounded conclusion would have been satisfying, but after all, this is a music video at heart. The combination of audio and visuals in Square Up can be seen as a creative and exciting success for all involved. Matthew Procter
he Offer makes the most of the well loved “awkward dinner party” genre, where the initial veneer of civility quickly falls prey to troubling dynamics. In this film, the awkwardness comes thick and fast as unhappily married Jo (Cass Buggé) and Andy (Lucas Kavner) offer to be surrogate donors to Maude (Leah Rudick) and Astrid (Fay Wolf), who also happens to be Jo’s ex.
Molly Schiot, USA, 2020
The viewer is plunged into the midst of two disasters: Jo and Astrid’s past, messy break-up, and Andy and Jo’s future divorce. When Astrid and Maude understandably turn down the offer, the venom in Jo’s reaction seems to suggest tensions between them that happened long before the opening credits. Likewise, as Jo’s true feelings for Andy (or lack thereof) become apparent, disaster looms in the wings. The story is framed by two clearly unwelcome positive pregnancy tests, setting off a ticking time bomb of complications.
What makes the portrayal of these complications really work is the acting. Although the script is at times a little clichéd (you’re wearing that shirt?), Kavner’s goofy charm is enough to bring it around. Similarly, Jo’s forced fun karaoke is by no means groundbreaking, but Buggé’s agonising performance is enough to make the viewer squirm.
One oasis of relative calm amongst the tension and grief is Andy’s conversation with Maude, where we see a glimmer of sweetness in a relationship that spills over the borders of friends, lovers, and co-parents.
The Offer is a film that brings up more questions than it answers. This is not to say that it is incomplete, but that the events we see occupy an unusual space within an altogether larger narrative that the viewer themselves are left to construct. Sally Roberts
The Boléro Drummer
Patrice Leconte, France, 1992
eeing one man playing a single rhythm in a long and repetitive orchestral piece may not sound like a convincing pitch for a comedy, but director, Patrice Leconte, manages to make The Boléro Drummer both surprisingly amusing and engaging.
The comedy comes, as it often does, from contrasts. It is surely no coincidence that the director chose ‘Boléro’, a piece with plodding, sombre majesty or, as others might see it, interminable droning. While the endless waves of melody break over each other and the other musicians stand to attention, the fidgety expressions of the drummer are almost like a schoolboy clockwatching on a Friday afternoon. While it may be an event of great cultural significance to some, it is simply a job for him and a boring one at that.
But this intersection of visual and aural media is more than just a comedic trope. Focusing directly on the physicality of the drummer (notably, his drum is mainly kept out of sight), the film peels back the smooth uniformity of the music to reveal the messy conglomeration of muscles, windpipes, and stomachs that are invisibly working below the surface. As the performance marches on, the drummer’s muscles twitch out of time, his tongue makes a quick lap of his bottom lip and his cheeks puff with air.
This last movement in particular gestures not only to outward physicality (the hands that beat the drums, the mouth that blows the horn), but also the inner workings of the body (the gut that nourishes those hands, the lungs that provide oxygen) that permit every act of creativity. This short film not only achieves the unimaginable feat of making ‘Boléro’ entertaining, but it also draws our attention to the often unseen but essential mash of flesh, blood, and muscle on which the music floats. Sally Roberts
Sincerely, Now Air
Theresa Grysczok, Germany, 2020
incerely, Now Air is a gorgeously animated stopmotion film about a mid-flight tragedy. Minimal in its action, it utilises a strong sense of affect to display a lasting and impressively complex understanding of the strange and isolating emotions surrounding the experience of death. The film takes place entirely on a half-empty flight, in which a mostly unseen passenger is given CPR by a patient and unwavering flight attendant. After failing to resuscitate the passenger, the flight attendant is forced to carry on performing her duties. She offers everyone on the plane counselling in her official capacity as an employee of Now Air, but it sounds hollow and forced. After having done so, she moves down the aeroplane and offers her carton of juice to a passenger version of herself, an act of self-forgiveness that feels profoundly vulnerable yet courageous.
Poster design: Scott Woolston
The first striking element of Sincerely, Now Air is its powerful sense of atmosphere. The half-empty cabin, its odd, artificial light, and the droning ambience of the score all combine to create an eerie, otherworldly air, which is incredibly befitting of the circumstances. The few passengers on the plane all feel irrevocably connected, sharing the false liminal reality of the aeroplane. This sense of community is exacerbated by the undeniable role each person has in the act of resuscitation of the dying passenger. As the flight attendant compresses the passenger’s chest, a small child squeezes her doll in rhythm with the compressions. The film cuts between the two, creating a continuity between the two and causing the viewer to see them as part of the same grander whole. This moment of tragedy is experienced equally by all involved, a shared trauma which bonds every single person, regardless of their
prior relationship to one another. Small, perfectly observed moments of truth populate Sincerely, Now Air, moments which could easily be forgotten in a medium such as stop-motion. As the flight attendant stands up after her failed resuscitation attempt, she pushes her glasses up, and we remember that this is not the climax of an epic action movie but simply a person trying her best to maintain composure in an awful situation. Her offering of a juice carton to herself is not a grand gesture and will obviously not resolve the trauma of the experience but is so genuine and simple that its emotional impact is far greater than any huge sentimental climax. Sincerely, Now Air excels in this kind of simplicity, representing an unsentimental and beautifully human response to tragedy. Will Whitehead
CLOSE UP CINEMA: 17-18 SEPTEMBER 2022 ONLINE: 17-25 SEPTEMBER 2022