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Petrichor - Short Film Review

★★★

Directed by: #LouisJack

Written by: #KennyEmson

Starring: #PaulKaye and #CliveRussell

 
A snooker player goes for a long-pot.
Petrichor poster


Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry once said that snooker is all between the ears, so there’s a logic to approaching a short film about the sport from a psychological perspective. Paul Kaye stars as Liam Daniels, a washed-up snooker player embattled with mental health problems, and haunted by memories of his former greatness.


Opening with Daniels alone in his dressing room before a qualifier, sound design comes to the fore. Harsh scrapes and rustles render the uncomfortable tactility of his pre-match routine; combing through his greased, thinning hair; trying to feel at-ease in his clothes. As a musical motif, the use of Franz Schubert’s ‘Der Leiermann’ (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) is arch and formal, but Schubert’s translated lyrics reveal its significance: “There, beyond the village / stands a hurdy-gurdy player / with numb fingers / he plays as best he can”. The hurdy-gurdy is a mechanical string instrument dating back to the Middle Ages, and it’s an easy inference to replace it in the song’s title and lyrics with “snooker”.


As important as the audio is Clive Russell’s role as sometime snooker coach Vic, who alongside Paul Kaye has the only other notable performance in the film. It’s apparent from the way Vic is filmed—introduced as a reflection in a mirror, disappearing like a phantom—that he’s a hallucination, or an extension of Daniels’ consciousness. The coach is incessant, berating his former charge that he “used to give a damn” about snooker, a reference to a match-fixing implication that’s underdeveloped considering its motivational relevance. But Vic’s jibes are driven by genuine affection, and they stimulate a pivotal plot development. He implores Daniels to move on from the sport, but not before he’s given fans one last moment to remember him by. So begins the final act.


Daniels starts potting balls left right and centre, rekindling his old form. The music starts soaring towards the sporting-film cliché of triumph over adversity. But once he gets to the colours, the crescendo gives way to silence, and Louis-Jack’s direction takes centre stage. The full baize is in shot, while everything else is kept cloaked in shadow. Wintry particles float in the air. As Daniels pots each ball, the camera pulls slowly further and further away, until by the time Daniels reaches the final black, the 12x6 has all but disappeared from view. Suddenly, at the moment he reaches the black, a stage door opens, flooding the auditorium with a brilliant white light, and leaving him with a choice. Instead of completing his maximum break, he decides to place his cue on the table and walk out into the light.


It’s an artful set-piece weighted with mortality, and concluded just as the film was opened—by Schubert. Though comical without context, there is a reason why his lyrics were so bleak. ‘Der Leiermann’ concluded ‘Winterreise’ (Winter Journey), a song cycle written while the composer was grappling with terminal illness. Snooker great Liam Daniels may have been leaving more than just his cue behind when he walked out that door.

 


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