★★★★ Directed by: Matthew Hall Starring: Francesca Louise White, Jamie O’Neill, Richard Mark, Victoria Sviggum Short Film Review by: Darren Tilby
Beginning as it ends and chronicling the relationship of a young couple, from their first meeting to their seemingly messy breakup: Back to the Start pulls no punches in its exploration into the psychologically damaging and emotionally crushing nature of modern dating and life.
As the film begins – slipping between various phases of the relationship in a purposefully disorientating manner – we’re introduced to our leads, Sophie (Francesca Louise White) and Ryan (Jamie O’Neill), at both the start and end of their relationship. Their first meeting – clearly arranged by mutual friends, George (Richard Mark) and Lisa (Victoria Sviggum) – goes well, and the young pair seems well suited to one another. Unfortunately, modern life can be harsh, and the things which we’ve now come to rely so much upon; inventions designed to improve and simplify life, can cause us to become disconnected from the here and now.
We observe the young couple through three primary stages of their relationship: the exhilarating start, the staleness of familiarity, and the soul-destroying end.
The film never parts with too much information, opting instead to show us only non-linear snippets of their life together; leaving us intrigued and begging for more.
And more can be found if you only take the time to look for it: the film is layered and has a plethora of clues scattered around its 16-minute runtime which, when discovered, feel rewarding and fruitful.
The soundtrack is understated and the dialogue is minimal, but neither are wasted and both are put to good use. The dialogue between White and O’Neill, in particular, feels natural and genuine; with both actors capturing the essence of the awkward first date particularly well. The only issues I found with the film were in the script, which at times prolongs conversation on a topic a little longer than it needs to; occasionally breaking the immersion. This is a niggling complaint however and never took me out of the film for long.
The cinematography on display here is sublime. The use of low angled shots gives the film a voyeuristic feel, and the lighting and colour palettes aid us in piecing together the narrative: during the early days of the relationship, scenes are full of bright, fresh colours and the camera remains in sharp focus, but towards the end, colours become muted and dark, and the camera drifts in and out of focus.
Using this particular plot device, having colours assist the audience in reassembling a jumbled plot, mimics perfectly that of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In that film, it’s Kate Winslet’s character’s (Clemetine) ever-changing hair colour that denotes which period of the relationship we’re witness to. Director and writer, Matthew Hall has taken this concept and made it his own; mirroring it in a way which is both respectful and astute.
Back to the Start is a well-acted, well-written movie, which, aside from the odd script issue is almost flawless. The cast delivers their lines perfectly, but more importantly, they’re all totally believable and have great chemistry on-screen. I personally love the film’s choice of plot device and nods towards Eternal Sunshine, intentional or not: and although it can be confusing to begin with, it’s really quite simple and rewarding once you’ve figured it out. Great effort all round!