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Unsent Letter [Christian Gordine, UK, 2018] /// Are You Volleyball?! [Mohammad Bakhshi, Iran, 2018]

Christian Gordine’s Unsent Letter imagines the story of a World War II serviceman as he recollects profound memories shared with a former lover. The narrative inventively transforms the original letter into a moving on screen performance, where Gordine personifies tumultuous themes of love, discontentment and idealism.

 

The short opens with the ambience of surging ocean waves washing against a coastal shoreline. The audience is presented simultaneously with a brief written synopsis, unraveling the film’s narrative. Christian Gordine's strategic dispensing of shots capturing serene images of the coastline cleverly displaces the focal milieu within which the plot of the story is centred. Brian Keith is the main protagonist, played by Damien Hughes (younger) and Hugh Ross (older). Both performers project a powerful sense of melancholy and give convincing interpretations of the character in the respective stages of his life.

 

Based on a true letter, the premise of the short revolves around the painful woes of a war solider and his unrequited love. The compelling letter is introduced as we see Brian greeting his former love interest, at which point it becomes clear that the subject of his affection is of the same gender. In her film, Gordine boldly seeks to explore the challenges that were faced historically by the homosexual community at a time when society was extremely conservative. Whilst the two-time award winning short film intends to be a ‘candid expression of a stifled romance’, the topic is one that still remains controversial, and in this way speaks with relevance to history as much as it does to our contemporary society.

According to a report by the Guardian, the UN Refugee Agency stated that approximately 116,647 refugees made life-risking journeys across the Mediterranean in 2018. Director Mohammad Bakhshi offers an insightful perspective into these dire situations, his short film Are You Volleyball?! acting as a mouthpiece for refugees across a diverse spectrum.

 

Bakhshi wastes little time placing us in the heart of the action and on the front line of this cutting-edge drama. The distressing pleas of men, women and children are heard in the heartbreaking opening scene, as a group of asylum-seeking refugees fight to obtain their freedom. With this, we are instantly invested in this humanitarian story, which Bakhshi brings to life as he interprets the devastatingly real atrocities that thousands of people face everyday.

 

Following these intense opening moments, the following scene proceeds on a much lighter note. We see a group of children dancing and singing, depicting a drastic contrast to the events prior. Here, the filmmaker subtly but consciously aims to communicate the innocence of these children who are undeserving victims to horrific circumstances.

The catalyst of change emerges, as a football becomes the mechanism in forging a truce between the conflicting sides (a group of Iranian asylum seekers and English-speaking soldiers on border patrol). The ball is humorously shown as an object causing havoc within the camp. The initial barrier (a guarded fence) that placed a wedge between the opposing sides is now broken down as they unite in a game of volleyball.

 

Bakhshi’s use of slow-moving, jubilant images to portray exuberant emotions creates heartfelt moments in the film, which will certainly win the hearts of audiences. The plot thickens and takes a turbulent turn, however, as the soldiers are instructed by superiors to resume their positions and, here, the potential for hope, in the form of jovial and sporting escapism abruptly ends.

 

The short draws to a somber and compassion-fuelled end as a young, deaf boy (who steals the spotlight in this film), clearly devastated by the turn of events, grasps (in futility) the finger of a solider on the other side of the fence.

'Unsent Letter' and ‘Are You Volleyball?!’ were films in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.

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