Decrescendo [Olivia Chiesi, USA, 2019]
Decrescendo, written by Elio Mardini and directed by Olivia Chiesi, is an engaging and taut drama of abstract dimensions that neatly explores an existential crisis that coincides or, perhaps, even triggers the protagonist’s sudden physical deterioration.
The 11-minute short opens with a young man in sunglasses driving a luxury, vintage convertible through the palm tree-lined Hollywood Hills. Benjamin, a man of wealth, lackadaisically listens to classical music on the car stereo as he meanders along the winding, scenic roads, eventually arriving at a large mansion.
A beautiful woman comes out to greet him. She scolds him for being late to see their father. The woman, Celestina, is Benjamin’s stepsister and their father, Charles, has summoned them to the stately home for a family meeting. Immediately, this appears to be a dysfunctional setting, with the family not having been altogether in this way for some time, and with Benjamin having no inkling as to why he might have been asked there in the first place.
As the children enter, the mother and father are already sat at the table. The stern patriarch, dressed in a dinner jacket, is about to make an important announcement. Celestina is to take control of the family estate. At this precise moment, all the sounds around Benjamin become inaudible with a deafening tinnitus drowning out the rest of his father’s speech. Is this a literal loss of hearing or a moment of deafening realisation, as his expectations and familial responsibility are wrenched away from him?
As Benjamin leaves the table frantically, distressed and confused, he tries to self-remedy the symptoms of this strange episode, with his father visibly vexed. Here, Benjamin’s initial veneer of laconic arrogance is immediately stripped away, making way for a sense of inadequacy and dejection as he stumbles around the opulent gardens of the mansion, finding his way to a swimming pool where he (symbolically or literally) drowns in his despair.
Decrescendo is a fine piece of work, with cinematographer Kenzo Le showing a great visual flair and lead actor (and co-producer) Drew Schrum eschewing grandeur and over-dramatization in favour of more subtle and understated gestures. In fact, the entire cast here is on top form, even with a script light on dialogue (particularly in the case of the mother, Anne-Marie, played brilliantly by Terri Parks).
The story is efficient, Chiesi and Mardini understanding the power of restraint and not playing their hand too soon, instead leaving the audience to work out what cards they are holding.
'Decrescendo' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.