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SHORT FOCUS 2019: Rath [Kevin Hu, USA, 2019]

October 2, 2019

The Wild West always reminds me of interminable, incomprehensible daytime television on the wet Sunday afternoons of childhood. Rath, however, could not be more different. For one thing, it is a bitesize twenty minutes in duration. But what’s more, it is more gripping, more stylish and more morally intricate than any cowboy flick I’ve ever seen.

 

The film opens with outlaw Howard on the run from the authorities. He stashes his sack of loot and makes a run for it through the endless dusty forest. Some time after receiving a bullet to the leg, he wakes up tied to a tree and at the mercy of Jeremiah Rath.

 

What is immediately noticeable is that Hu is talented at producing visually satisfying shots. Some examples include the symmetrical view of Howard strung up surrounded by trees, and a midnight campfire in the middle of the forest, where the burst of golden flames balances the silvery orb of moonlight.

 

An atmospheric score of threatening strings compliments these eye-catching visuals; the chorus of orchestral villains is well placed, and suits the dark themes and wooded scenes of Hu’s short.

 

This film is masculine to the extreme - you can almost smell the manly musk of bearskins and muddy stubble through the screen. However, it is by no means a gun show of macho feats. One of the most impactful scenes is a lovely and unusual portrayal of male relationships, as Howard must help his friend in the most difficult way imaginable. Haydn Winston and Matthew Blood-Smyth (who play Howard and his companion respectively) make this scene particularly gripping with their spectacular portrayal of anguish and compassion. These glimpses of love and pain add more depth to the brutality of the story and give a refreshingly emotionally literate hero of the Wild West.

 

This evasion of two-dimensional characters extends to the moral ambiguity of the storyline. Initially, Rath seems like a roughened angel - big on the tough love - but thanks to Mark Isaiah Phillip’s fantastic acting and the violence of the character, it is hard to know whether he is a philosophical genius or a ruthless lunatic. Perhaps it is possible to be both. This complexity avoids the problematic (not to mention just plain dull) dichotomy of goodies and baddies that so often dominates films in this genre.

 

Hu’s short manages to pack a whole lot into a very short space, and it works extremely well. The elegance of both the plot and the production of Rath make it well worth a watch at the forthcoming Short Focus Film Festival this September.

'Rath' was part of the Official Selection at Short Focus Film Festival 2019.

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