Thursday, March 20, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—A Joke (2010) ***

NR, 14 min.
Director: Andy Brown
Writers: Andy Brown, Anton Chekov (short story)
Starring: Matthew Sincell, Megan Tusing
Music: Steve Lavner

I always had a problem with Chekov. I could never find an entry point to his narcissistic heroes whose problems all had the same root source—themselves. It’s not that this observation was an invalid one on the venerated Russian writer’s part—far too many of us suffer these same ailments—but this central characters always seemed to me the only characters in which Chekov had any interest. Now, I haven’t read a whole lot of Chekov, so my observations are most likely a grand generalization, but… there it is.

So, I heard about this short film from a friend of mine, who also happened to write the original score. I watched it for my friend’s involvement rather than the Chekov connection. It’s a modern adaptation of one of his short stories. However, it seems to fit right in with my thoughts on Chekov. As such, I have to say it seems to be a pretty good adaptation.

It tells the story of a man who plays with the hopes and romanticism of a woman for no reason other than that he can. They’re friends. He enjoys sledding in the winter. She is skeptical of the enjoyment to be found in something that could potentially be dangerous. He talks her into sledding down a popular hill and on their way down he whispers into her ear that he loves her. Afterward, he makes no indication that he said anything as she struggles to figure out if the statement was real or imagined. She asks him to slide down the hill again, and he does it again. Once again, he fails to indicate that he said anything to her. So she asks to slide again and the mental torture continues.

If you ask me, this guy is a jerk. He toys with her using his own ego as his weapon. I don’t know if Chekov meant anything deeper with this story, but I feel it all boils down to Chekov’s ego. Nevertheless, the short film captures this essence of Chekov perfectly. And writer/director Andy Brown does one other thing that is wonderful to see in what might’ve been approached as a rather simple directing project, he focuses intently on the actor’s faces. I don’t think a film of this type could work without its emphasis on the character’s faces and unspoken expression.

Regardless of whether you like Chekov or not, you should see this film, just for Steve Lavner’s score, though. Yes, I comment here with complete bias. Lavner latches onto the repetitive themes of the story and creates an aural landscape just as important to the story as it’s wintery physical counterpart. He keeps it light, and doesn’t allow Chekov’s sort of sinister puppet game to become too weighty. The title is “A Joke” and the airy score helps keep it in that territory.

Watch the film below.

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