Hand Job short film


Directed by Ziyad Saadi

Starring Astrid Ovalles, Christian Thom

Short Film Review by Leonardo Goi


Hand Job, director Ziyad Saadi’s 2015 short, is an original and carefully thought out cinematic experiment that nonetheless seems to jettison all hopes of success along the way. It tells the story of Margaret (Astrid Ovalles), a housewife who killed her husband and two women she found him sleeping with; and a man (Christian Thom) who develops a strange sexual attraction for her while interviewing her on the killings.

The assassin-turned-sexual-fantasy is not a particularly new trope, but it is the way Saadi chooses to shoot it that makes it stand out as such. We never see Margaret’s face, nor the interviewer’s, as the most part of Saadi’s 11-minute short is a long, almost uninterrupted take of the housewife’s hands.

It is an interesting and brave directorial choice. Focusing only on her hands, Saadi can portray the tension between Margaret and her interviewer as it plays out on her body. The way her hands gesticulate gives an idea of what goes on outside the frame, and faithfully reproduces the emotions that she undergoes during the chat.

But it is a strategy that nonetheless falls flat on several accounts. Margaret’s hands turn into the catalyst of the interviewer’s sexual fantasies. She describes how she strangled the two women and her husband, giving out macabre details of how she suffocated the three with her bare hands, while the interviewer notes their potential: “Your hands are capable of great things, Margaret.”.

Yet the way in which his sexual attraction unfolds is clumsy and abrupt. In the space of a few minutes the interviewer goes from asking Margaret about her life as a housewife to calling her breasts “boring”. The conversation is cut right before the encounter makes a first explicit turn, but by failing to show how the perversion unfolds during and immediately after that moment the interviewer’s supposedly naughty remarks toward the end of the short film feel more like out-of-place, anticlimactic jokes.

To be sure, it is difficult to believe Saadi’s choice to focus almost exclusively on Margaret’s hands could have worked on a longer feature. Even so, the feeling is that the full potential for character development of Margaret and her interviewer is only half realized.

The means Saadi employs to shoot Hand Job also do not help to do the film justice. Up until the movie's second explicit turn and ending, the director opts for a camera that seems to mimic a low quality security video. A choice that somehow reinforces the voyeuristic and sexually-charged flair of the interview, but severely undermines the overall work, as the audio quality at times makes it difficult to follow the conversation.

For all its non-traditional experimenting, Hand Job ultimately feels like a frustrating hit-and-miss. A frustration that owes a lot to the feature’s great potential and original take, and the way neither seem to have been thoroughly explored.

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