By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
“Sisyphus”(2016), the fourteen minute and thirty-three second debut short from director David Graziano, is an incredibly clever and strikingly original modernization of Albert Camus’ 119 page philosophical essay on the pointless quest for understanding, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942). In Camus’ famed text, the title Greek Mythology figure labored to roll a boulder up a mountain. It was a duty he was forced to endeavor for all of eternity. The futility of this back-breaking chore was articulated in the fact that once this was achieved he would watch the rock slide back down the elevation. The job was then repeated to no avail. Such was an expression of the human condition that endures as easily visible. It can still be applied to various aspects of our own personal lives. In turn, it is more than deserving of the updating Graziano and screenwriter Christopher DiNunzio, from a story by Bryan Casey, so marvelously craft here.
In Graziano’s effort, the symbolic pillar is that of a secret romantic relationship. It has blossomed from a friendship between Gretta (in a warm, gentle and credible performance by Jami Tennille) and Marlene (an enactment by Diana Porter that is just as nuanced and wondrous as her on-screen counterpart). The passage of days into years is gently, wisely expressed. This is through their various meetings at the same coffee house. At the heart of this dramatic undertaking is Gretta’s impending divorce. She sees this as a perfect opportunity to cement the once ardent bond she had with Marlene. Yet, Marlene is indecisive. It is an attribute of Porter’s role that she conjures brilliantly. This is as she goes through the majority of the piece coyly, as if unsure of what Gretta is desperately trying to communicate to her. It is from this point other interestingly conveyed concealments begin to get in the way of what Gretta and Marlene once had with one another.
The affair is punctuated by sparkling, immersive cinematography by Nolan Yee. He captures the mature, yet down to earth, tone Graziano injects spectacularly into each frame. This is with incredible visual flare. There is also a vastly appreciated underlying commentary on our diminishing face to face talks with one another. This is as the labor opens with everyone on their phones, directly avoiding all the people surrounding them. There is even an impression that Gretta and Marlene, with the exception of the baristas to their customers, are the only ones who are actually speaking to one another directly. All of this increases greatly the highly representative nature of this beautifully executed opus.
Likewise, Steven Lanning-Cafaro, who appropriately appears here as The Guitar Player, builds upon the sophisticated ambiance unveiled throughout. This is with his musical contribution. Cafaro provides soothing, melodic rifts. All of which are precisely what you may hear at a setting such as the one found herein. Such sweet sounds are continuously streamed in the background during the coffee house sequences. In turn, it often seems as if it is in sequence with and, simultaneously, helping edify the sentiment being uttered by our leads at every turn. Yet, astonishingly, it never once overshadows the dialogue driven emphasis of the account. In this sense, as well as many others, “Sisyphus” is a masterful demonstration.
Further facilitating matters is DiNunzio’s terrific, seamless editing. Graziano, who has wide-ranging involvement as a scripter and actor, has a behind the lens approach which is stalwart and engrossing. He will assuredly fare here as well as he did in his previously stated doings. Graziano’s bravura also compliments the material splendidly. There is also strong sound and camera work present. Such continues to build the excellence found herein.
DiNunzio’s screenplay is smartly paced. The aforementioned banter between our two leads is intelligent, authentic and well-written. The only occasion the feeling at hand seems to lapse is in a mid-way segment and in another nearly identical one during the concluding seconds. This is when we witness the shot of a package being opened. Instead of letting this transpire leisurely, and in real time, it is sped up. On each instance this plays out it momentarily throws us out of the saga. This is because it seems too rushed. It betrays the gingerly constructed illusion to watching life unfold that arose beforehand.
Yet, these are but a few erroneous flashes in an otherwise stellar, highly gripping composition. The fiction, which is scheduled for release in December of this year, is magnificent told. This is in a simple, straight-forward manner. Such mechanizes splendidly in the overall context. Best of all, the characters are always at the forefront. Gretta and Marlene are spectacularly developed. This is especially noteworthy given the exertion’s brief duration. Our protagonists, as well as the photoplay itself, should prove relatable to a wide-audience. Graziano has erected a truly impressive, emotive experience. I look forward to seeing what moving picture wonders he will conjure in the future.