Directed by Martin Sandin
Film Review by Nathanial Eker
Distressed, a fifteen-minute short from director Martin Sandin is a film of implications. It is difficult to analyse what makes this emotive film tick, due to a lack of narrative intent to its script. What is presented is intriguing, but Sandin's failure to move the narrative forward makes it difficult to become properly invested. It's a shame too, as the film's morbid tone is established effectively, and the cinematographical choices are often superb. Regrettably, what we're left with is a short that embodies the term 'all style and no substance'.
Nathan Larson arrives at a small house and burns his funeral clothing, seemingly letting go of what came before. We quickly discover that his daughter has passed away, and his guilt is immeasurable.
Unfortunately, there's little more to reveal than that, as despite boasting an interesting premise, Distressed never builds on its conflict, nor does it reach a satisfying resolution. This could be interpreted as a metaphor for the immeasurable grief of losing a child. However, as a viewer, the lack of conflict and especially the damp finale is undeniably disappointing. Just as we become invested in Nathan's journey and wonder exactly what happened and how he will cope, the film ends. As a slice of life story, it's likely a realistic portrayal, but as a piece of entertainment, the lack of conflict is crippling.
It is especially disappointing as Sandin eloquently crafts an enticing premise using very few words. This is undoubtedly thanks in part to Carl Ingemarsson Stjernlöf's earnest performance as Nathan. His expressive face is often telling and, as a mostly solo performer, much of the film's verisimilitude rests on his shoulders. Fortunately, his energy is believable, and his dour facial expressions cement the film's realistic scenario and regretful tone.
Stjernlöf is ably assisted by a fantastic mise-en-scene, particularly the solitary setting, low-key soundtrack, and long, methodical cinematography. The regular slow zooms in on Stjernlöf's distraught face allow us to effectively relate to Nathan's strife without the need for words, while the mournful guitar helps to establish a solemn, isolated atmosphere.
It is frustrating then, that Nathan's journey never goes anywhere. He expresses clear outbursts of anger and resentment, yet we never get a conclusion. Will he move on with his life and be with his partner? It is difficult to even hypothisise potential scenarios, as there is no obvious conflict in this script, whatsoever.
Is Distressed a painfully assiduous expression of the trauma of the grieving process? Absolutely. But for a film that crafts such a naturalistic mise-en-scene, it is fair to assume that it would utilse a traditional narrative structure and present an impactful resolution. Unfortunately, if it is simply an examination of the haunting effects of grief, there just isn't enough here to be compelling.
Distressed does what it says on the tin. As an audience member, it is distressing to sit through fifteen-minutes of excellent build-up, only to be afforded no resolution.