This week I’m looking at two short films. Neither of them is available to watch or download online. Neither of them is available to buy in HMV (although you can order Oscar and Jim through their own website, details below). In fact, unless you’ve been making a tour of the film festivals you are unlikely to have heard of either of these two excellent pieces, so why do I bring them up here? Well, I for one find it a little odd that, given the advances in media distribution courtesy of the internet, short film hasn’t seen a surge in popularity and uptake, by filmmakers and audiences alike. I will be looking at the problems of short film distribution in greater depth for Notes from the Underground soon, but for the time being I want to show you just how good a medium it really is.
‘Most of us think of ourselves as basically nice,’ opens Love Hate’s protagonist, Tom. In a society in which we constantly monitor and moderate our behaviour aren’t we in danger of becoming inauthentic and repressed? This is the question apparently put to him when his ‘Hate’ appears to him in person, in the figure of Hayley Atwell. ‘Why do you look so…’ he asks. ‘Don’t you know that to some people hate is incredibly attractive?’ Atwell replies, and she most certainly is – in fact the onscreen chemistry between her and Whishaw is central to the film’s success. This is a slick, clever, funny, grown-up film, written and directed by brothers Blake and Dylan Ritson. Its surreal turn is instantly accepted by the viewer and is consistent throughout. We recognise Tom and his predicament as our own: his irritation at the baby screaming on the bus, the old woman who doesn’t acknowledge him holding open the door in the supermarket. His ‘Hate’ encourages him to behave exactly as one would choose without the pressure of social convention, without the pressure to be ‘nice’.
Of these two shorts, Love Hate had a far larger budget, with investment from the UK Film Council, BBC Films and the like. And it shows. The score is provided by BrainsandHunch, who you may know from their catchy little numbers for BBC Two, the camera work and cuts and shifts are slick. The film is undoubtedly made by the two central performances given by Atwell and Whishaw and casting them must have been a major boon for the film’s producers. The script is fast paced, far funnier than anything on television right now, as well as being consistently clever. For example, Tom is reunited with his girlfriend (Joy) at the film’s end only for his feelings of hatred and entrapment to be figured by the reappearance of Atwell nursing a bump. This is intelligent, high-class comedy and it’s a wonder that the BBC hasn’t asked the Ritsons to adapt it into a six part series, in a similar vein to Being Human.
Oscar and Jim’s smaller budget tells in the production’s quality. The film’s focus on one location and its cast of two have an inevitable effect on pace but this is exacerbated by the high number of scene shots, pauses and chapter breaks, and thus the film can appear hesitant. Iain Weatherby’s script is neat and it has a satisfying (500) Days of Summer vibe to it, even if the direction can feel a little more In The City of Sylvia. However, where the film excels is the performances of Harry Lloyd and Charlie Covell – so much so that it’s hard to tell whether the humour originates from the excellence of the writing or the comic timing of the two leads. The script is also sensitive – the viewer’s allegiance switches throughout as Emma is bitchy and Gerry childish. ‘Oh God – Nice,’ harangues Emma, ‘That just about sums it up. That just about sums you up.’ This is a couple who either shouldn’t be together or, at the very least, are experiencing all the usual manner of disappointments that are discovered in one another over an extended period alone. In fact, it is disappointment that pervades the film – the disappointment over the weekend, the relationship, Paris. It’s life as we believe it should be, held up to how it really is, because both Emma and Gerry are idealists in their own way: Gerry with his romantic notions of an intimate city-break and Emma with her self-image as bohemian traveller rather than tourist. Underneath all the humour the viewer can’t help sharing their disappointment and the sense of two innocents jaded – jaded at how different life can be to how one had hoped it would turn out.
Two excellent films and both not readily available to you. Oscar and Jim can be ordered from Anchovy Pictures on the link below and you can view a trailer for Love Hate, but otherwise you cannot download these from iTunes or view on YouTube. Why, I would like to know, are they not readily available for audiences that are increasingly discerning about what they watch and how they watch it?
Love Hate won Best Short Film at the St Louis International Film Festival
Oscar and Jim won Best Short Film at the Rhode Island International Film Festival