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Empyreal [Lucas Coyte, UK, 2018]

The brilliant thing about short films is that they expand the possibilities of cinema beyond the cookie cutter plot-driven narrative. Not all short films choose this route, but Empyreal does. Crossing the boundaries between film and poetry, Lucas Coyte’s piece is a philosophical meditation on the profundities of outer space.

Somewhat fittingly, the film’s main strength is its use of space - in both senses of the word. By setting one small object within a screenful of almost-emptiness, the short successfully portrays the unthinkable vastness of the universe. The length of the shots complements this visual silence. Coyte is clearly in no hurry, and this creates a quiet, pensive tone that allows the viewer to slowly sink into the beauty of the scenes.

Although the film does have a quiet atmosphere, these arresting images are set to a robotic voiceover. There’s a reason that this short feels more like a poem than a blockbuster: it’s inspired by 'Aniara', an epic science fiction poem written in 1956 by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson. The poem, which is considered one of the most important pieces of Swedish literature in the twentieth century, tells the tragic story of a lost spacecraft traversing the cosmological wasteland. This homage does well to convey the intertwining of sadness and sublime of Martinson’s work.

'Empyreal' means either divine paradise or beautiful, awe-inspiring sky. Despite the melancholic overtones of the doomed spaceship, this short and poetic film is a full embodiment of its title. For an example of how intermediality can be done well, take a quiet five minutes to wallow in the strangeness of our alien home.


‘Empyreal’ was a film in consideration of Short Focus Film Festival 2019.

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