It’s big trouble in little Poplar as Steph, a teenage girl, finds herself sharply spurned by the friends and residents of her local community, after she viciously attacks her best friend, Cynthia, following an argument. “Wounds carried so deep, worsened by the cold streets that hold me captive,” she recites (in voiceover), alone and shivering through the dizzying rush of traffic in the East London suburb. This pervading sense of isolation is sustained throughout the course of Fading, underscoring the pains of a young child at the mercy of impending adulthood, simultaneously enamoured and at odds with their immediate surroundings.
Similar narrative territory is excavated with great sensitivity and documentarian authenticity in Celine Schiamma’s masterpiece, Girlhood [France, 2014], and anyone familiar with British crime-drama series Top Boy [UK, 2011 –] will no doubt offer up justifiable notes of aesthetic comparisons. Anthony Vander is adept at conveying this narrative motif of isolation through an evident understanding and respect for street locations, already demonstrated with aplomb in his 2019 sports drama, Spar. The pairing of he and cameraman Eduardo Jed Camara is a match made in heaven too, with Steadicam shots tracking Steph (played by Gabrielle Agbenosi) walking or cycling through gloomily lit streets, capturing perfectly the oppressive and yet strangely attractive Brutalist architecture that hems her in. Unfortunately, the plaudits end here.
The screenplay (written by Tofi Sodobu, Olumide Sodobu, and Suzi Ewing) is overwrought and undisciplined, with a mostly redundant network of (poorly acted) characters that soak up valuable screen time, which might have been put to better use building a more plausible rationale for Steph’s very sudden vitriolic assault. Instead, we spend the majority of the film’s duration witnessing remonstrations, inquisitions, and emotional outpourings from local authorities and loved ones in the aftermath. As a short, the larger part of the story should have focused on Cynthia (Temi Omowaye) and Steph’s relationship, not least because it’s in the scenes where they are together, however brief, that the performances and story are most engaging.
With Fading, Vander and Camara do their best to carry the heavy load of a baggy script and mediocre performances, ultimately buckling under the weight of the narrative’s grander ambitions. With fewer characters, a pared-down script and limited locations, this short could have worked as an incisive chamber piece that aims at the root of the perennial “why”, instead of a 15-minute epic ensemble that simply concentrates on the sensational, albeit ephemeral “what”.