A crooked arm jitters in profile and newly acquired corporeality as extending from the surface of a painting it presents in stage-trained fingers the jack of spades. Its intended recipient, backlit and silhouetted, reaches for it. This is the enduringly surreal image at the heart of Mycle Scheuer’s efficiently constructed short comic film The Painting in the Lobby.
The arm is Scheuer’s, who plays the subject of the portrait, a bored card mechanic, rendered via a post-production filter in watercolour daubs. Given life and sentience, the magician vies for the attention of a besuited passer-by (Eric Nascimento), and captures it, as any preternaturally animate article of lobby decor might. Winningly broadcasting the silently ingratiating bodily and facial tics of the parlour illusionist, Scheuer cajoles Nascimento into humouring a simple card trick – the apparition of his dimensionally transgressive arm its culminating moment.
A final twist may at first suggest a malevolence in this upwardly mobile trickster’s motives, but Scheuer, as director and actor, plays it all unambiguously for laughs, positioning his film closer to, say, the early comic curios of the pioneering cinematic illusionist Georges Méliès. In direct ancestry to Scheuer’s film is Méliès’ 1899 short Le Portrait Mystérieux [France, 1899], which – in its own final moments – depicts an analogous instance of existential upheaval with similar comedic briskness.
The great French critic André Bazin, commenting on the 1951 film Where No Vultures Fly [Henry Watt, UK], observed of one of its sequences, during which a boy is pursued by a lioness, that the entirety of its tension was imbued by a single shot: of the boy and the lioness together, undeniably occupying the same space and thereby authenticating the action. Likewise, here it is in seeing Nascimento's confrontation with Scheuer’s strange incarnate limb, reaching into being, that charges a peculiarity and mystery in the film's wider comedic fare.
Peppered with neatly reflexive visual details (a final joke invites a reimagining of those parts of a subject a painter chooses not to paint), The Painting in the Lobby is a simple and effective comic piece elevated by a single, arresting composition.
‘The Painting in the Lobby’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.