Inside Out 2008 Review
Inside Out (Oct 2008): FilmGuide Reviews
By Jacob Powell
Couch | by Revolution Films
An old man roams a garage sale looking for nothing in particular when, in a moment of bittersweet retrospect, his past comes back to visit him via a most unexpected source. A short film with an excellent elliptical storyline, Revolution Films’ Couch fuses conceptual strength with creative technical efforts to present a tale that is ultimately well told and quite moving.
The eponymous couch acts as the short film’s narrative fulcrum; the wear and literal tears scattered across its frame providing physical links to the angst ridden youth of our elderly protagonist. As his aged hands (along with the camera) roam the surface this battered centre piece the director transports us into various touch points in his life. The picture painted is one of anger, loss, and familial discord and yet our protagonist is still drawn to remember. The piece ends with a moment of redemptive beauty as his family gathers around him on the newly reacquired couch; what was in the past a symbol of dissent has been repositioned as the backdrop to family unity.
An excellent effort from a production crew of young and inexperienced filmmakers what Couch may lack in professional production finish it more than makes up for in terms of creative input and technical direction. Casting is one of the keys to the short’s success; the gentleman cast as our elderly protagonist has an astonishingly expressive face and a screen presence which, despite the lack of dialogue, aptly conveys the emotional strength of the piece. The filmmakers also present the couch itself as a strong central character; perhaps the one the audience will most empathise with, each being a passive but affected onlooker to the events unfolding in this life. This device, well employed, is reminiscent of the work of master filmmaker Robert Bresson in his film Au Hasard Balthazar in which the titular donkey Balthazar likewise acts as the silent observer of cruel human actions.
Present time and flashback are nicely distinguished via colour versus black and white cinematography with inventive but natural feeling transitions reminiscent of those seen in the first Highlander film (for those who are up on their 80s movies!) Couch includes several shots which stand out as individually excellent work including the opening shot moving into down the driveway into the garage sale proper and also an early flashback scene in which the young protagonist, sitting awkwardly on the couch, is viewed in the background of the shot through the limbs of his arguing parents in the foreground, who are seemingly oblivious to his presence. Adding further visual weight is the obvious attention to detail in the props department, the crew making sure that there are no glaring inconsistencies in the flashback time periods.
The most noticeable weak point this film is a tendency to visually over-exposit the negative experiences of the protagonist where perhaps a lighter hand may have better carried the poignancy of various moments
(eg: in the stabbing the couch sequence). This minor misstep is easily forgiven when you take into account the inexperience of the filmmakers and the incredibly short timeframe in which the film was conceived, shot, and edited. Couch is a first effort to be incredibly proud of and, with a some refining and little more production polish, could hold its own in many a short film programme.
Nothing Once | by SCCC Productions
Prisoner A: “What are you in for?”
Prisoner B: ”Nothing.”
Prisoner A: ”I did nothing, once…”
This about how the conversation goes between the two gentlemen inhabiting the prison cell we see in the opening shot of Nothing Once, the short film from the SCCC Productions crew, and from here we melt into the episodic flashbacks of events prior to his incarceration before ending, once again, back in the prison cell.
Exploring the idea that a lot of meaning lies concealed behind the façade of our everyday social niceties Nothing Once lays out a night in which parental self absorption leads to tragic loss. A son vying for his father’s attention is turned away at every juncture and is forced to fend for himself. Throwing his lot in with friends who are all out to prove themselves – as boys longing to be accepted in an adult world will – he tries his hand at tagging and random acts of violence before encountering the wrong person to mess with and things take a turn for the worse. Meanwhile dad is up to his neck in drink with his crew, though his attempts to find meaning, connection, and joy seem somewhat futile; like he is going through the motions of a well rehearsed dance without actually being present in the moment. When harsh reality finally strikes home he turns further in on himself attempting an ‘escape’ which, ironically, finds him locked up.
A nice conceptual play on the word ‘nothing’, Nothing Once highlights both the possible emptiness of human interaction as well as the idea that deciding to do nothing can be tantamount to passively accepting an outcome you might not have considered consciously choosing. In this case the father’s lack of action in his parental relationship leads to a sense of isolation in the son which drives him into a situation he may not otherwise have come to. You get the feeling that these kinds of nights are recurring events and that though this scenario could have gone many different ways on any given night, this particular set of events is one of a number of very valid possibilities; this lends the short a sense of immediacy and honesty which is a key to its appeal.
Editing decisions – such as the intercutting of the father and son storylines and overlaying shots (to create both a sense of drunkenness as well as the growing sense of relational instability/disassociation occurring between father and child) – exacerbates the sense of familial disconnect in Nothing Once. The filmmakers’ setting/backdrop choices also create a distinct visual contrast. On the one hand, though dad is filmed at party central, the interior of the house in which the party takes places is visually spare and aurally overwhelming; conversely, the son is in the silent outdoors – creating a kind of meditative space in the film – whilst set against a visually vibrant backdrop of street art on the walls in front of which the action occurs. These small glimpses of visual beauty are all the redemptive grace this short allows the viewer as all else is a well captured mood of grim tragedy.
If Nothing Once was to be revisited, more cohesive links between each of the flashback episodes would be advisable as the short does come off feeling a little too oblique and may lose some viewers. Again, in light of the inexperience of the film crew and the time constraints this is still an unexpectedly decent piece worthy of a wider viewing than it is like to receive.