SHORT FOCUS 2021: So That Nothing Changes [Francescu Artily, France, 2020]

So That Nothing Changes is a story of a homecoming that will be familiar to many – from the first awkward meet-the-family, to the stilted dinner small talk and subtle sibling digs, it’s all very human and very relatable. That is until the ominous undertones seep through, and it becomes clear this return has unleashed darker urges, simmering beneath the austere country veneer. One of the great feats of this short film is the staging – the exterior locations are well matched tonally to the story and the interior décor, albeit sparse, achieves a lot with very little. A wild boar head is used to chilling effect, along with the ominous soundtrack, and marks the point where the story definitively veers into creepiness.

The cast, although not helped by some slightly wooden dialogue, fully embody their characters, and manage to reveal their inner worlds well. Chloé Astor, as Marie, has perhaps less lines than one would expect from a main protagonist. However, this helps ground her character in stoic strength and quiet melancholia, and lends her an air of mystery. Bastien Bouillon, as Nicolas, is a lovable mix of awkward and gentle, more herbal tea than hard liquor, sticking out like a sore thumb in the harsh, hyper-masculine environment of Marie’s childhood home. Nevertheless, it is Nathan Willcocks, as Xavier, who has the toughest part to play, and he does a superb job with what he is given. Hiding anger, resentment, and plenty of baggage beneath a sombre, weathered exterior, he is the calm before the storm, like a volcano poised to erupt at any moment.


When he does erupt, the story takes a darker turn, but there are too many plot holes that are left unexplained for the viewer to sustain attention without constantly questioning the significance of details that seem random at times, and ambiguous at best. Is the unexplained bout of violence a continuation of abuse that was ongoing and buried deep, is it motivated by a twisted form of love, or does it stem from revenge and bitterness?

We are left to wonder not only about the ending, which is a bit too predictable in its staging, but also about the message the director, Francescu Artily, was trying to portray, grasping for answers, and looking back to the title to reveal a deeper meaning. The story remains an intriguing depiction of buried tensions bursting to life in an ominous and mysterious setting, but never delivers the shock of a reveal that subverts expectations, as does for example the brilliant, Palme d’Or winning short film Wind [Marcell Iványi, Hungary, 1996], which not only shocks but also makes the viewer unknowingly complicit in the spectacle unfolding before his eyes.

 

'So That Nothing Changes' was part of the Official Selection at Short Focus Film Festival 2021.

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