By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
“It’s Not You” (2013), the four-minute debut short from writer-director Sophie Peters-Wilson, is a sentimentally searing powerhouse; a visual poem told largely via flashbacks. It is one where joy is overtaken by a hidden heartache. What makes the material all the more potent is that it these memories, and the emotive journey attached to them, personify what is occurring in the mind of a young girl. She is referred to in the credits merely as Daughter (a performance by Abigail Spitler that tremendously conveys all the conflicting sensations someone in her position would undergo in such a situation). As the undertaking commences, she is being told that her parents are about to partake in a divorce. What follows showcases magnificently, achingly Daughter’s altering perspective. This is concerning what initially appeared to be happy times.
Peters-Wilson communicates this to the audience with small tidbits, all of which suggest transformative secrets, which were either regressed or deliberately hidden from Daughter’s eyes. For instance, one sequence showcases a close-up of Father (in another commanding, passionate and hypnotic enactment from Timothy J. Cox) pulling himself out of the locked hand of Mother (in a phenomenal, well-rounded depiction by Sarah Ruth Blake). This is to address another woman who has stopped to ask Father a question. Yet, the moment, heightened by the angry glimmer in Mother’s eyes as the instant occurs, speaks of jealousy. There are also various other hidden undertones. These are of her suspicions that Father is not being faithful. As the mid-section becomes a balance of arguments between both the maternal and paternal halves of this familial unit, Peters-Wilson clearly states the concealed tiff, revolving around the fear of breaking the matrimonial bond, between the two. It is during this succession, more than ever, we also note how remarkably Peters-Wilson has put us into the mind of Daughter. This transpires as we find ourselves asking many of the same questions that the character herself must be forced to ask during this deliberation. These are inquiries like: “Is this particular time what caused their falling out? Was this simply part of a bigger sequence? What could’ve been done to change this while it happened?”
It all helps to make this brief affair, which was shot in New York City, victorious. This is as both a psychological portrait and a maturely fashioned character study. Likewise, Peters-Wilson, who created this haunting composition with a reported budget of only $100, provides a screenplay that is credible at every turn. This specific section is also brilliantly structured and fluently, suitably paced. Moreover, the sparse bits of dialogue Peters-Wilson provides her leads are endlessly believable. Such is especially accurate with the circumstances the collective kin unveils. Though Daughter’s outlook fuels the majority of this stalwart opus, Peters-Wilson goes out of her way to be respectful to the plight and perception of all involved. Such a decision amends the effort with all the more dimension and detail. In turn, it makes it feel all the more complete. Peters-Wilson’s stirring, meditative authorship is given a stylish visual component through her directing. It is one which is equally elegant and impressive. Both elements find the perfect note for the material immediately and execute it beautifully throughout. All of these aforementioned attributes are more than visible in the final product.
Peters-Wilson also offers cinematography which is absolutely stunning. This is from the aspect of its overall veneer and tonal mastery. The more upbeat moments are merry, bright and cheery. When the story exposes the dark underbelly of Mother and Father’s relationship, what we see on-screen is drenched in a color palette that is appropriately bleak. Peters-Wilson’s contribution in this respective category is all the more striking and wondrous because of how well she speaks to her audience through this, and all the previously stated, mediums. Her editing is just as sharp and seamless.
With the further assistance of tremendous camera work from four individuals, this is just as pleasurable to admire from a technical angle as it is to witness. Peters-Wilson and her moviemaking crew have provided a narrative that has undoubted resonance and true cathartic value. This is for those who, sadly, may find themselves in a similar condition as those we encounter within the venture. It is just as much for the personalities who can look back, much as Daughter may do years after the events of this tale have happened, in continued meditation. “It’s Not You” is a heartfelt, courageous, challenging and necessary drama. Peters-Wilson has crafted an unflinching, cerebral masterpiece. It is one which all of its spectators can utilize to understand, in one arena or another, and grow from. That, in itself, makes it certainly worthy of recommendation, seeking out and experiencing for yourself.