Beard Envy [John Tomkins, UK, 2018] /// Genesis [Michael Tekle, Germany, 2018]

February 25, 2019

How does one even attempt to view something like Beard Envy in a critical and analytical manner? How does one search for flaw or merit in a film that begins with a growling pirate menacing a young man in a museum? Beard Envy is a short film by director John Tomkins based on a poem by spoken word artist Robert Garnham. It’s worth a moment of pause to acknowledge this began as a poem of all things. Human endeavour truly knows no bounds.

 

The film tells of a young man’s quest to conquer his envy of the magnificent beards surrounding his life and to grow his own perfect beard. It is incredibly hard to describe Beard Envy without describing each bizarre scene. Beard Envy is perhaps proof that a film can be made about absolutely anything and still be incredibly imaginative and frequently hilarious. John Tomkins really should be praised, taking on the roles of director, producer and editor.

 

Our beardless hero, Dan A. Beard (yes that is his name) played by Jack Allum takes us through his endless frustration of failing to sport a luxurious beard through a series of beard related antics and encounters all told through poetic monologue. We meet a gallery of bearded characters in scenarios both typical and pointedly untypical. Part of what makes Beard Envy so funny is how the director manages to stretch this one joke over five minutes and manages put so much effort and creativity into it.

 

Whilst not a technical marvel by any stretch of the imagination, and featuring the strangest use of a poorly photoshopped bearded dog this reviewer has ever seen, it feels like criticising the short based on its technical proficiency (or lack thereof) is to miss the joke entirely. One thing that could have been refined is the lip-syncing. There is a recurring gag of the voiceover syncing with the on screen conversation and often the two don’t always line up perfectly.

 

Beard Envy is something that honestly should be experienced purely on the grounds that it exists. Some filmmakers have passion projects and burning desires to tell their stories to the masses, others make poetic short films based on the burning desire to grow a beard. I can’t say Beard Envy needed to exist all, but I’m very glad that it does.

Science fiction has always been a genre with incredible potential. It is a genre that has the ability to captivate the imagination through incredible visual experiences whilst also telling timelessly resonating stories. It also has great potential for some of cinema’s biggest failures. Ambition is always an important tool for any filmmaker but what happens when ambition overrides practicality? Well, you end up with something like Genesis.

 

Genesis is a science fiction short film from German student director Michael Tekle, created with an all student crew. Student filmmakers are often geniuses at working with the bare minimum and producing some outstanding work. However, it is evident from the first shot of Genesis that Tekle flew a bit too close to the sun. Genesis is an incredibly ambitious project for a student or any independent filmmaker working on such a modest budget, but sadly what we have here is a prime example of why managing expectations is so important for a film like this.

 

There was clearly a vision for this film as a dystopian narrative, likely inspired by films like Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, USA, 1982) among many others, but vision means very little when one begins paying attention to the film’s poor special effects. It is a problem that unfortunately plagues Genesis’ entire 9-minute run time and, on top of not looking even slightly convincing, the world we are presented with is not the least bit interesting. The story is the same old fare with the creation of an android as substitute for human life and before the film really has a chance to say anything, it rushes to a predictably unoriginal ending.

 

The lack of attempt to bring any kind of nuance to this story is frustrating and makes the viewing experience feel pointless by the end. The acting performances are flat with the only character even attempting expression being the android. The main character is an emotionless, suited man who feels like a sub-rate villain from a forgotten 90s movie, and is even accompanied by a Japanese scientist and an android clone. Nobody onscreen seems to be even halfway interested and this very much comes across to the viewer. While it is not an especially slow watch, it is rather dull and lacks originality.

 

The director’s ambition should be admired even if his ambition is a little misguided. Hopefully we will see Tekle take another stab at this genre, next time focusing more on story and character over attempts at flashy visuals that ultimately appear hollow.

'Beard Envy' and 'Genesis' were film submissions in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.

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