Directed by Robert H. Wainwright
Starring Iannis Aliferis, Sofia Varino and Marcus Massey
Short Film Review by Andrew Young
Robert H. Wainwright’s Headz is a thoroughly charming short whose odd missteps prevent it from becoming a complete success. Wainwright collaborates with Wright Way Films producing partner Iannis Aliferis, who here writes and stars as our protagonist, known only as Factory Man. An odd, lonely figure, he potters about an abandoned warehouse living a life that could kindly be described as minimalist, consisting of a stone floor for comfort and chocolate trifles for nutrition. From his first appearance, Factory Man is an endearing oddball, Aliferis imbuing him with a sense of childlike innocence and an abandonment that brings Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands to mind.
His life and character are quickly drawn in the opening few shots, establishing loneliness as the overarching theme of his existence. This is beautifully shown when he attends to a mannequin inside his makeshift home. His need not just to be loved and cared for but to love and care for others is clear as he tenderly draws lipstick on his inanimate friend, the splash of colour bringing visual flair as well as the increased evidence of his need to connect. But have no fear, a love interest is here. As Factory Man goes about his customary wander he sees Sofia Varino's Houla Lou. In a nice touch, rather than sweeping past the waving weirdo approaching her, she walks on by but with a slight look of trepidation and fear rather than disgust. She strikes us as a potentially damaged character who could need the very same human connection that he does.
This kind of bleakness followed by romance-based hope could be shot with Dardenne-style naturalism, stirring emotion quietly and grittily, displaying the abject misery of Factory Man’s life in no small amount of detail before the glimmer of hope that may or may not save him. Wainwright goes for a far more whimsical, dreamlike approach, helped by DoP Louisa Rowley shooting the locations exquisitely, specks of dust floating in the sunlight to give a magical fairytale vibe. There's also the soundtrack put together by Arcimboldi Studios, tinkling pianos adding a lightness that is balanced by sudden bursts of darkness in the visuals and crashing rain taking over from the music. This audial approach is effective, but it does feel somewhat overbearing at times. The score virtually never stops, making you wish Wainwright had perhaps used a bit of simple, quiet realism to go with his simple, quiet tale.
Whilst not being completely successful, the use of sound does fit in with the generally consistent tone. It is a shame, then, about the fight scene. In an attempt to help Houla Lou shake off an unwanted admirer, Factory Man finds himself caught in a fight with Marcus Massey’s Wezz. It is comically OTT with their inaudible shouting grating on the viewer, the two of them not really forming words but robotically squalling like a pair of coked-up droids. It is a bizarre approach and a jarring lurch in tone, perhaps intended to be humorous in its out-of-the-blue oddness, but it fails to land.
There is also the nagging feeling that we’ve seen this sort of idea before, with Forrest Gump and Tim Burton’s sharp-fingered friend springing to mind. Nevertheless, it raises a smile to see Houla Lou saving her would-be lover whilst also seeing his kindness and seemingly thinking nothing of his inability to fight. There is also enough humanity in the performances to get past the perhaps too one-note characterisation. Yet the simply drawn characters are part of the effect. It is a simple story but one that holds important value in its depiction of a man escaping loneliness. The final scene, instead of swooning romance or heady passion, highlights the beauty in simply being with someone, having someone to share experiences with and talk to. Not even that, just someone to sit and share a trifle with.