Directed by Raouf Zaki
Starring Essam Ferris, Mitch Fortier, Nour Bitar and Rina Hasani
Short Film Review by Chris Olson
In what couldn’t be more perfectly timed, short film Fireflies, directed by Raouf Zaki and written by Charles Hall, captures the intense and bleak societal tension existing in the U.S. (and other Western countries) between communities and Islam. This is done with subtlety and grace, but is no less effective in revealing the inherent legacy of years of scaremongering and how tragic the result has been for many Muslims who are often treated with undeserved suspicion.
Sat inside a quaint American cafe, a man called Marwan (Essam Ferris) seems fixated on a flower inside a small vase on his table. Even taking a glass of water from a nearby patron’s table to feed it, his delicate obsession is at once lovely and worrying. The man whose glass has just been emptied sits reading a newspaper, with bold headlines declaring a “Terror” event, he eyes the strange Middle Eastern man but does not say anything. The headwaiter (Mitch Fortier) marks an X on the calendar, which the audience learns signifies each day Marwan has come in. Through the use of cross-edits and flashbacks, we are given pieces of the man’s life, where he came from, his current life in a motel, and the significance of the title Fireflies.
The filmmaking in Zaki’s short movie is tentative and lovingly crafted. There is a focus on the visual elements, most strikingly exemplified by the near complete lack of dialogue. Moments such as the focus on the flower on the table, whilst the background remains out of focus, are a simple but beautiful way of highlighting one man’s life amongst all the noise and chaos. Close ups of Ferris’s face are also wonderfully intense and intimate, giving the film the emotive power it needs. The Director of Photography, Kenn Gonnerville, does a splendid job of delivering intelligently framed scenes throughout the several locations, which keep the audience emotionally grounded even in the more troubling sequences.
In a bold, almost silent film like Fireflies you need a fundamentally excellent performance to keep everything together, and Ferris delivers this with ease. His control of scenes is almost completely reliant on his facial expressions, but his thoughtful ponderings and air of elusiveness is totally compelling, sucking viewers in as the intensity of the atmosphere builds. Other performances are also noteworthy, in particular Nour Bitar as a refugee during one set piece involving an escape from Marwan’s homeland, and also Rina Hasani, who plays a young refugee girl who attempts to “catch” the burning embers of her home town, one of the references to Fireflies.
There are some bold themes in this short film, ones which are intended to be provocative and troubling. It is unclear as to Marwan’s intentions, and his activity in the cafe is unusual but not particularly threatening, and it is this notion about suspicion which is well delivered by the filmmakers. A Middle Eastern man sitting alone in a cafe seems to merit more attention from the headwaiter, who deems it necessary to mark his daily appearances on a wall calendar! There are times when the audience are given stronger evidence of suspicion, such as seeing Marwan routinely look out his motel window at the glowing neon sign displaying “No Vacancies”, or being given difficult scenes of Marwan’s background, but even these remain unclear as to the actual events which took place (and who were responsible for them), and whether this has any relevance whatsoever on Marwan’s frame of mind.
My only criticism would be that the film is a touch too long. The build up is fantastic and intense, and the aesthetics of the short are beautifully done, but the poignancy gets lost slightly by lingering too long in the final third. That being said, Fireflies is a powerful and painfully relevant piece of short filmmaking, one that will make audiences feel decidedly unnerved for all the right reasons.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for Fireflies: