The Choice [Abdelmoula El Hadi, Portugal, 2020]
The impact of death on the bereaved can never be underestimated and the psychological reverberations it can cause are impossible to truly measure or understand effectively. And what of the practical, ecological and philosophical considerations? It is an area within which Abdelmoula El Hadi’s The Choice aims to explore and, more explicitly, deals with the debate of burial versus cremation.
The short opens with Alicia (Ana Henriques) returning home alone after a long day of work. Preparing a microwaved dish she sits down at the kitchen dining table and dozes off. The bell of the microwave jolts her awake, as she stands up to notice the uneaten bowl of cat food on the floor. Surprised, she checks on her cat Lucy to find her dead in the living room. Now emotionally frantic, the woman calls her partner Tom (Daniel Simão) to deliver the news and, upon his return, they discuss how best to dispose of the corpse.
It is here that the major conflict within the story arises, as they argue about the virtues and complications of cremation and burial in the presence of their infant daughter Amelie (Vitoria Lima). The debate is perhaps revealing of deeper-seated resentments between the couple, which will undoubtedly influence the attitudes of their daughter in later life. The father’s resolute decision to allow her to be present while he disposes of the body, signals the director’s intention to understand the residual effects of bereavement in a way that is delicate and thoughtful.
Some interesting camerawork helps to encapsulate the expansive subject matter, with the wide shots of natural locations being particularly effective. The scene in the woods where the father and daughter dispose of Lucy is executed with careful consideration of each character’s spatial perspective. There are also some smart moments in the plot (including a second ping of the microwave bell) that allow us to consider alternative points of view in the narrative, particularly from that of the now adolescent Amelie (Catarina Flor).
However, the technical elements of the film that show signs of promise are undone by underwhelming performances and a meandering, generic piano score, which strain under the weight of the heavy material. To reconcile such heady, humanistic ideas with the naturalist performances of non-actors is an extremely difficult thing to achieve, and is the one egregious setback to an otherwise well-meaning and satisfactory think piece.
'The Choice' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.