The Thinning Blue Line: A Day in the Life of a Mid-Wales Copper [Liam A. Matthews, UK, 2017] /// An Actual Account of Things My Mother Told Me [Bianca Panos, USA, 2017]

December 28, 2018

In 2018, the UK saw policing reach the point of near collapse. Budget cuts led to regional police forces diminishing drastically in size, with basic aspects of the service – answering phone calls, crime investigation, neighbourhood policing and attending emergencies – in danger of becoming unsustainable. It is an ongoing and, of course, a worrying state of affairs that has had the public in despair and the government up in arms. In sharp and satirical fashion, Liam A. Matthews’ The Thinning Blue Line imagines the direct effects that these austere cuts might have on the community, taking us behind the scenes of a fictional Mid-Wales Police Department.

The 'mockumentary' focuses on Gywn Jones, the department’s police sergeant, as he struggles to find the resources for his unit to perform their core duties. During a shift briefing early on in the film, Jones’s attention is brought to certain absent members of staff. “Where’s Williams?” he inquires. “Laid off, sarge”, PC Thomas matter-of-factly replies. Constable Evans chimes in to contextualise the unwelcome information. “Budget cuts, sarge. Williams is close to retirement so they’re letting him go.” In astonishment, Jones observes, “But he was 35!” It is a hilarious set-piece which tees up the rest of the film’s proceedings, which sees Jones now having to toe the front line of mundane administrative duties (often mid-interview).

 

The screenplay cleverly justifies its small crew of players by abandoning the rest of the department to the same fate as Williams, consequently reducing the squad to a paltry three (Jones, Thomas and Evans). We learn subsequently that they’ve had to swap out all of the department’s police cars for bicycles and even the most basic luxuries such as stationary are in severe need of replenishment. It is a genuinely funny piece of work, but it is important not to forget that the film is tackling a very real and serious problem, a point that director Matthews evidently understands by having the film’s prologue feature an excerpt from parliamentary question time, with several politicians (including Jeremy Corbyn) tackling this very issue.

 

In its style and delivery this comedic short film most closely shares its DNA with Ricky Gervais’ touchstone mock documentary The Office [UK, 2001-03] (all of the film’s action taking place inside a drab and soulless office). The characters are clearly out of their depths but completely lovable and more humane for this, as we see them pulling together to keep the department from falling apart. The Thinning Blue Line is a well-conceived and enjoyable satire that gets to the heart of a topical issue with a fine balance of mirth and pathos, and is a fine demonstration of what can be accomplished with little budget and an inspired imagination.

An Actual Account of Things My Mother Told Me is a talking-heads style comedy documentary directed by and starring Bianca Panos. It starts with an answerphone message of Panos’s mother Doris, played over a shot of Bianca flicking through photographs of her mother (in various guises) labelled with descriptive intertitles – “a jewelry designer, a fashionista, a world traveler, a badass and my mother”. This sets up a series of her mother’s clearly indelible one-liners and witticisms, performed and parodied by Bianca herself. Each short quip is summarised with chapter headings as such – 

 

On Family: “Be nice to your brother, even if he’s a dick”.

On Men: “Guys have two heads; one that thinks and one that doesn't”.

On Her Kids Leaving Food Out: “That box of bran, it upsets me.”

On Cooking: I made it, it's gourmet!" – and so on.

 

The short film is a warm and jocular reflection on memory and childhood that looks back with fondness upon the universally understood parent-child relationship, predicated on (oft-broken) rules, structured domestic rituals, quirky mannerisms and nonsensical axioms. Continuing in the fashion of the guises seen in the photographic intro, Panos takes advantage of different costumes and props to assist the viewer in fully realising each episodic sketch. In a thick Greek-New Yorker drawl – sometimes in hair curlers and, at others, dolled up and nursing a glass of wine – Panos conjures up a convincing portrait of the sassy, modern and instinctively overbearing matriarch, whom one might determine was automatically passing down a legacy of teachings and behaviours instilled in her by older familial generations.

 

The short film is an amusing autobiographical account of a young woman making sense of the world filtered through a mixture of personal experience and maternal wisdom. The short also serves as a performance show reel for Panos, adopting almost as many different expressions as costumes. Produced, edited and shot by Panos too, this is most certainly a one-woman show, offered up in a quick slice of personal parody. An Actual Account of Things My Mother Told Me is a fun sketch that offers a teasing insight into a modern mother-daughter relationship. Although, as much as the telephone voice-overs, photographs and impersonations afford some context, I can’t help wanting to actually see the real Doris.

'The Thinning Blue Line' and 'An Actual Account of Things My Mother Told Me' both were submissions in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.

 

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