Sarah [Amos Culbreth, USA, 2018] /// Disjunct [Brian Short, USA, 2017]
Sometimes the most heinous crimes are the ones carried out in broad daylight, right under the noses of complacent and none-the-wiser bystanders. The common misconception that the worst criminal activities only happen after dark is, for the most brazen of perpetrators, the perfect cover for their transgressive actions. It is an idea that first-time filmmaker Amos Culbreth deals with here in Sarah with varying results.
Listening to music on headphones, a young teenage girl sits cross-legged on a bench, waiting for her Lyft ride (a much lesser known on-demand transportation company than the ubiquitous Uber). Her driver arrives and immediately, from the aggressive thrumming of his car’s running engine, we feel a sense of foreboding. From inside the car the camera lingers over his shoulder as he silently prowls in the designated parking lot waiting for his passenger. Sarah spots his car, grabs her bag and makes her way towards the vehicle. Reaching the car, she peers in through the window, but there is now nobody inside. We see the driver’s hand reach from behind, covering her mouth with a cloth, sedating her and putting her in the boot of his car.
Unconscious, gagged and tied up, she is dragged through the halls of a nondescript industrial storage space. Upon gaining consciousness, we see her bruised and bloodied face. The driver takes her phone and calls her father, presumably to barter for some amount of ransom. Cutting to her father, we see him at his office desk drinking from a hip flask. He hears the phone ring, looks at the screen but chooses to ignore Sarah’s call to return to his alcohol-fuelled undertakings. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for Sarah.
There is something dreadfully masculine about the short film, in the way that its sole preoccupation lies in the distressful kidnapping, torture and murder of a helpless female. Not necessarily that the filmmaker is asking us to enjoy this aspect so much as there is no real sense of conflict or redemption. The titular character’s fate feels predictably sealed in the opening seconds of the drama, purely there to serve as a victim of a senseless crime without any hint towards moral repercussions. It bears the hallmarks of the (suggested) violence of a Quentin Tarantino film such as Reservoir Dogs [US, 1992] or, more closely, Death Proof [US, 2007], but in these the female characters are normally battle-hardened and eventual victors rather than submissive and helpless victims, and yet one can’t help feeling that at the back of this and informing the narrative is a heavy amount of influence from the aforementioned director, just with all of the subtlety missed.
There are some interesting touches to note, including the fact that the three-and-a-half minute film is virtually silent, with the action clearly and economically told through simple action shots, efficient montage and good foley design. The student short is taut in its execution and visually it makes good use of location and space, with the interiors feeling particularly menacing and claustrophobic. Unfortunately the film revels too much in violent fantasy without any concern for rectitude.
Opening with time-lapsed monochrome footage of a busy metropolitan area, the images slowly blend into colour, the still shot accompanied by droning, harmonic cellos. The atonal, abstract sounds hum and pulsate over an assortment of seemingly disconnected objects, although there seems to be an underlying theme of the city landscape tying these images together. The film’s design (as the title suggests) appears to be one contradictions, the camera exploring disconnections in continuous spaces. Short employs stuttered and jittery editing techniques and the grainy Super 8 and 16mm footage adds tactility to the film.
Partial images of statues, pylons, train tracks, pedestrians, buildings etc. warp their way from one into another. Some images are overlaid with snippets of prosaic texts, creating a jarring and hypnotic effect. It alludes to some of Jean Luc-Godard’s more recent works such as Film Socialisme [France, 2010], where over time the cacophonic juxtaposition of image, sound and text begin to coalesce into something that appears cohesive. The film develops dynamically, the soundtrack building to a propulsive and rhythmic composition giving the film a sense of logic and direction.
Disjunct is a very interesting video poetry project. At just over 13 minutes it does feel quite long and is a challenging watch. It could be felt by many as a test of patience and an endurance exercise, but one that reaps rewards by the end if given the chance. The experimental short film would perhaps serve more purposeful ends in a modern gallery space. Similarly to (Untitled) Morning [Ruxandra Mitache, Switzerland, 2017], the film is an experiment in visual poetry and sound, and an exploration of nature, light, time and space. Of the two short films, this one is the more successful.
'Sarah' and 'Disjunct' both were submissions in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.