Long after the bullets have stopped, the torment of warfare lives on relentlessly in the minds of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferers desperate to escape a past enveloped by the barbarous violence of war. Hollow Tooth deals with issues that are mammoth, but on an intimate scale that grounds you in the emotional journey of its characters, as disgraced ex-military serviceman Jason’s fractious homecoming threatens disaster.
As Jason’s military service comes to an unsavoury end, he returns to the home of his father, only to find familial support has been cruelly repressed by notions of toxic masculinity, an already fractured relationship deepened by his father’s shame. The warm embrace he so sorely craves withheld, Jason is told he must start work straight away as a farm hand if he is to gain respect and board at his father’s farmstead. But as the clear and obvious signs of PTSD begin to set in, Jason finds it difficult to hold down a job in his rural community, ghosts of his past returning to reap violent ends.
Hollow Tooth is visceral and dark, haunting and invasive; its effect powerful, its impact colossal. It holds the indisputable achievement of portraying complex, shattered relationships in a light that is illuminating and truthful, the script, director, and actors working together to create a world that shines. Nauseatingly extreme close-ups have the effect of sucking us into the minds or our lead characters, with the performances that director, Samuel Kaperski, draws from his actors consistently impressive.
As Jason and his father mill around the festivities of their local town, their experience drips with authenticity, rural France becoming the centrepiece for our banquet of distress. The shame that father, Cyrille, feels for his son is palpable, their relationship decaying with every shared second of screen time. Cyrille’s approach to fatherhood is best described as distant, his approach callous. On his first morning back under his father’s roof, Jason is awoken by Cyrille undertaking target practice with live ammunition, a non-too-gentle reminder that, despite the geographical distance, Jason is still unable to outrun the torment of war.
In Jason’s small town, reputation is everything, and when he learns of the contempt that many of the local farmers feel for him, his thin veneer of confidence begins to slip. Driven to posturing in an environment where masculinity reigns supreme, Jason craves validation. Asking a young boy if he can bum a cigarette, the camera frames Jason at the bottom of a shallow ravine, whilst the young child sits atop him at the crest of the hill. So desperate is Jason for approval that he asks the young boy, framed as if above him in the local pecking order, “Do you think I’m a weirdo?” and is clearly soothed when the child responds, “No.”
Throughout, the horrors of war are never far from Jason’s mind. Strobe lighting highlights the contours of his bone structure, as a firework display cascades in the background, their echo sounding eerily like the racket of gunfire. Such haunting noises return as Jason begins to drink, unable to fight off his inner demons, even as he seeks solitude down by the river. Add in the non-diegetic addition of air raid sirens, and our journey with Jason has become nauseating in the extreme.
As a character study and societal critique, Hollow Tooth is a triumph, impeccable in its delivery and astounding in its clarity of vision. Over the course of several viewings, one runs out of superlatives for how impactful a short Hollow Tooth really is. Assuming the unenviable task of exorcising the horrors of war, it succeeds on every narrative and technical level, demanding re-watch after re-watch after re-watch...
'Hollow Tooth' was part of the Official Selection at Short Focus Film Festival 2020.