By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Most of the routes of dreams branch out maddeningly into avenues of failure so varied that we often lose sight of the sharply focused paths ahead. They are departures that can be falsely perceived as permanent. Yet, those who find themselves off-road, staring wide-eyed into the obvious sign posts of their addressed defects, especially if it is engraved in their ultimate ambition, often lose hope altogether.
Soon they find their feet sinking into the mire of abandoned hopes when such an incident transpires. With this they are wrought in disillusionment. This is rooted in what he or she believes to be the reality that they will never rise up. Furthermore, they feel as if they will never better these errors.
They become stuck, some momentarily and most others indefinitely, as the voices of those who pointed out their shortcomings ring forever in a cacophony of eternal humiliation. For many of us, artists especially, such small criticisms cause silent wounds. These forever inwardly scar. They make our once swift movement towards personal reveries immobile.
This is the focus of the 2012 short “Still Life”, a cinematic composition worthy of Ingmar Bergman, by writer and director Chris Esper. It concerns a student of photography, Martin (Timothy Bonavita in a part that perfectly conveys all the layers of vulnerability, intelligence and sentiment his character demands). He wants to be a photographer.
Yet, as we learn in a beautifully wrought early scene, the world around our wide-eyed and ambitious lead puts him in the line of fire for constant criticism. Still, he is devastated yet, optimistic.
The tale walks this fine line of emotion in a realistic, understated manner. It is done in a conscientiously ardent and understanding way. With this modus anyone who has felt defeated by negativity after it is cast at his or her aspirations will undoubtedly find liberating.
An early segment showcases him being criticized in front of his peers. This is done in a manner that suggests he just needs slight improvement to be where he needs to be to achieve the first steps of his intended success.
It is a sequence that is an analogy for how our main character is feeling. This also communicates his own contemplations about himself through emotion and action.
This draws us instantly into Martin’s existence. To further add to this intimacy the camera surrounds Martin like a close friend; one who should speak up in defense. Regardless, he never finds the strength to do so.
“Still Life”, made for only $500, finds the right note and atmosphere instantly and never departs from it. To its further credit, the pace is meditative and cerebral. Still, it is always fascinating.
This characteristic is, like the rest of the tale, appropriate. It also gives us the necessary time to learn and reflect on Martin’s situation. Such is done without the proceedings ever feeling as if it is ignoring the act of moving the story along rapidly.
Esper’s brief film never once steps away from following our starry-eyed persona as he continues on despite a succession of letdowns. The crisp and intimate largely black and white cinematography by Mark Phillips adds to the haunting, downtrodden yet inspiring poetry of this massive achievement. It also heightens the previously stated sense of luminosity amid darkness.
One especially poignant moment involving Young Martin (Charles Everett Tacker) and Martin’s Mother (Carlyne Fournier) are in color. This segment is highlighted by aching reminiscence. It is only amplified by the stupendous caliber of the aforementioned portrayals.
The gorgeously gentle drive of Ryan Campos’ beautiful score is perfectly in sync with the sentiment expressed on-screen. Jill Poisson’s editing is terrific.
This also issues exemplary acting turns from David Graziano, as Professor Lynch, and Mike Daniels, as Josh. The rest of the cast fares just as well.
All of these elements make “Still Life” a contemplative, deeply felt masterpiece. In but eleven scant, but quietly harrowing, minutes Esper and his filmmaking crew triumphantly executes introspection, drama and sorrow.
These elements all unify in a silent cry to love and understand those around us. Also, it assures us to that defeat is but a temporary obstacle meant to be overcome.
Martin states about a flower he photographed in the first few minutes of this heart-wrenching work that he wanted to “convey a solidarity of loneliness”. That is exactly what Esper and his crew have done.
They have framed the chief protagonist as the lone blossom. His seclusion is the focus of what lies enclosed in the picture. In turn, the work itself and the character radiate a melancholy splendor.
It illuminates the moving photograph it is contained in. From here it touches our core. In turn, we relate and feel unified with the central figure of the narrative.
Maybe Martin isn’t so alone after all.