Nivette [Gaëtan Boschini, France, 2018] /// A Great Fall [Jez Leather & Jonny Cola, UK, 2018]
Les Schini’s Company’s ability to deliver an extended piece of dance choreography that is both fantastically interesting and deceptively subtle is an achievement that should, under no circumstances, be downplayed. Gaëtan Boschini’s direction and Mélodie Cecchini’s choreography are both ludicrously strong. Nivette explores society’s attitude towards the elderly and its predominately pejorative outlook towards the processes of ageing and physical decay.
As a piece of short form cinema, it views like the less “angsty”, decidedly more upbeat sibling of Georgia Parris’s Mari [UK, 2018]. The fact that both films can accompany and compliment each other in the same sentence is testament to their contrasting but always exhilarating approach to dance choreography. Les Schini’s Company is a French dance company, and Nivette brings with it such an accomplished “company” feel that it is difficult to give all of this short’s contributors the recognition they deserve in a short form review article. That being said, in the main body below, certain members of the company have managed to find themselves singled out for particular praise.
Twenty-eight year-old Nivette wanders melancholically through life, stuck in a haze, her limbs sore, her outlook bleak, and is certain she has caught old age. Through a chance meeting with an elderly gentleman who possesses a childlike enthusiasm for life, however, Nivette’s attitude and general disposition are gradually altered.
It is a charmingly simple story, yet one that is laden with rich imagery and important social queries. Can ageing be done gracefully? Is it inevitable that old age will result in increased loneliness? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we let go and accept the inevitable? Through a balanced combination and understanding of a multitude of different forms, including experimental short form cinema, dance and music video practices, Les Schini’s Company take just eight minutes and a half minutes to ruminate on all of these questions and more.
The choreography is Nivette’s most immediate strength. The way in which both the character of Nivette and the old man shift and change, as their dancing plays out their character arcs, makes the piece a compelling watch throughout. The choreography is simply impeccable, with moments such as the old man dropping his stick, only for Nivette to help him catch it, seeming to both confirm and dispel their contrasting attitudes towards ageing.
Similarly, both characters are aided by highly accomplished costume and makeup design provided by Daisy Cadeau, and hairdressing provided by Charlotte Lurachi. Likewise, the skilful location scouting (another element that is often under-appreciated in film criticism) is brought to the fore, with the backdrop of Nivette and the old man’s meeting place so stunning that it is difficult to ignore. And therein, perhaps, is Nivette’s greatest strength: the feeling of many different artists working together on a collaborative project to devastating effect.
If you are a viewer with a penchant for short form cinema and experimental dance pieces, then there is a great deal to be enjoyed whilst watching Nivette. Youn Lohmann’s original soundtrack is also worthy of an honourable mention, whilst the cinematography, arguably the weakest aspect of the film, still features some delightful manipulation of split screen photography, used to compare the routines of our main character’s daily lives.
Nivette explores what it can feel like to be old, with a piece of short cinema destined to make those who watch it feel young.
Jukebox Headaches, the creative duo behind A Great Fall, boast of their work to be ‘free from the tedium of financial backing or technical knowledge’. Whether or not this is tongue in cheek, it is at once A Great Fall’s biggest strength and greatest weakness. In places, the film almost lands, but unfortunately, on the whole, this sometimes comic, at times overtly pretentious offering doesn’t hit the mark often enough. Whilst the securing of financial investments and the knowledge of filmmaking and craft can be lengthy pursuits, when it comes to making short cinema there is much to be said for taking the time to gain both.
The short makes an interesting start, as main character Jonny stares at himself in a mirror, his gaze contemplative and forlorn. It appears the character’s “great fall” has already occurred, as he searches how best to recover himself. The actor who plays Jonny (and whom we assume is “the” Jonny Cola, one half of Jukebox Headaches and professed writer, director, producer and star of the project) possesses a fascinating facial appearance and highly expressive eyes that instantly captivate the viewer.
However, soon after this opening shot, the actor’s lack of technical knowledge so keenly attested to by the company soon becomes apparent, the acting performances appearing wooden and highly unnatural. A strong start is instantly undone as we watch a scene in which Jonny wanders round a woodland setting after an elusive ballerina, that could be from any unoriginal student film depiction of a dream or drug-induced reverie.
Everything from the fade edits to the clichéd ballerina imagery, to the unskilled handheld camera approach undo the good work of the film’s opening and give the piece a real student film feel in all the worst ways. As Jonny’s dream ends, he decides to visit old friend and associate Alan, sat alone in his darkened living room, seemingly just waiting for the worst of it to be over. As they watch TV and converse, the dynamic of the pair’s relationship begins to shift and the film’s complex narrative unravels. Interesting moments do rear their head as Alan reads passages from Marc Bolan novels and Jonny attempts to discern the meaning of messages blurring at him from Alan’s living room television set.
Ultimately, these moments never threaten to add up to one complete and balanced offering. Perhaps to criticise A Great Fall in terms of principles such as balance and completeness is nothing more than an attempt to put a square peg into a round hole. After all, A Great Fall has achieved its film festival successes by admissions to underground festivals in Harrisburg, San Diego and Seattle, and even lists “underground” amongst its accredited genres. However, at times this self-professed underground status just feels like an excuse to not hold A Great Fall up to the same level of scrutiny as other more accomplished offerings, mainstream or otherwise.
Overall, A Great Fall is a disjointed narrative that can’t quite holds the viewer’s attention for long enough to connect the numerous dots provided during the course of the seventeen minute run time. Some moments are intriguing but, alas, they do not quite manage to remedy the other numerous moments that are hackneyed and uninteresting.
A Great Fall feels like the garage band equivalent of short filmmaking, and whilst this is refreshing in some instances, in others it really isn’t.
'Nivette' and 'A Great Fall' were films in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.