Directed by: #LouisaFielden
Just over a year on from the explosion of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in late 2017, Louisa Fielden’s new #shortfilm People You May Know provides a relentless and powerful embodiment of the social revolution that has gripped the world, encouraging women to speak out against harassment and misconduct.
Scrolling aimlessly through the “People You May Know” section of Facebook, Emily (a raw, emotional performance from Aiysha Hart) pauses at the profile picture of her first boyfriend, James (Joseph Timms). She is clearly a troubled woman, with scars of self-harm visible on her arms. Seeing his smiling profile picture seems to trigger a deep, pent up anger inside her – she is no longer willing to live with the shame and self-loathing this man has caused her and is ready to speak out and fight back. Set almost entirely within the confines of a small coffee shop, the film focuses on the reunion of this former teenage couple, 11 years after they broke up.
Fielden wisely wastes no time leaving the audience to try and figure out what happened between Emily and James, cutting away from the initial flashback sequence of Emily re-discovering James via Facebook and back to the present day with a close up of the dismay and surprise on James’ face in reaction to Emily’s accusation, quickly ramping up the intensity. There is a claustrophobic feel to the film – the camera stays fixed on the two actors throughout, with only the occasional sound of traffic outside and sombre ambient music in the background, building in a slow crescendo as Emily drives her point home. There is a constant feeling that you are intruding on a real and extremely private conversation that you shouldn’t be watching, yet can’t look away.
The authentic feel to the film is hugely down to the impressive performances from Aiysha Hart and Joseph Timms who, with the help of a tight script, manage to develop layered and complex characters within the short running time. Both undergo transformations over the course of the conversation – Emily starts out visibly nervous and withdrawn, growing in confidence as her momentum builds; James on the other hand, goes from self-assured and mildly patronising to a stuttering wreck, as his deep rooted prejudice and ignorance is laid bare before him. The film leaves you conflicted – Timms’ fickle and arrogant portrayal makes James a strongly dislikable character, yet part of me was left pitying him – the warped view of masculinity that society has taught him has left him unable to accept what Emily is saying, and unequipped to cope emotionally with the challenges he is facing at work and at home.
The short film ends on a cautiously optimistic note, although Emily doesn’t get the acceptance and apology she may have set out for, she appears to have exorcised some of her demons in order to help her move on with her life. It is this kind of cautious optimism that perfectly encapsulates the watershed moment that we are currently facing – People You May Know expertly portrays the experiences of people like Emily, and deftly sweeps aside the clichéd excuses and accusations commonly aimed at those who dare to speak out about such traumas. It is crucial that society embraces and listens to these kinds of lessons if true gender equality is to be achieved.