Written and Directed by Kalainithan Kalaichelvan
Starring Joann Nordstrom, Maddox Hayward, Willem Legood, Jim Garrow
Short Film Review by Chris Olson
"Life and death are God's work, not ours..."
This poignant line spoken to a mother (Joann Nordstrom) when speaking to a holy man about the ailing health of her son, beautifully encapsulates the tone and aesthetic of short film Stella Maris from filmmaker Kalainithan Kalaichelvan.
Told in black and white and an unconventional aspect ratio, every aspect of Stella Maris has been formed to suit the period feel of the short. The sombre stringed score performed byTrevor Dick is dramatically tense, as is the score in general from Kalaisan Kalaichelvan, constantly rousing the audience like a movie from the silent era. The use of lighting is done to perfectly complement the loftier themes of religion, life and death which surround the film like a noose, using shadow to suggest character flaws and sin, as well as creating an immense sense of foreboding. Cinematography has been used to allow space and distance from the characters at time, and then emotional intensity in others. This juxtaposition is a subtle but effective way of drawing the viewer into the drama without hitting them over the head with it.
The plot is acutely dramatic too, focusing on a mother-son relationship that is disturbingly strict and pious. As the mother constantly chastises her boy about preparing for an important religious event whilst his health becomes increasingly perilous. Nordstrom is an absolute powerhouse throughout, delivering scene after scene of intense emotion and phenomenal character depth. One scene where she tenderly holds her son in bed is remarkably beautiful and tragic. The side characters are not massively fleshed out, but the strength of this film rests on this central performance which is rock solid.
Kalaichelvan is a wonderful craftsman as a filmmaker. The only real slip are the lengthy lingering moments in certain shots that seemed to inject a sense of tedium whereas the rest of the short was brilliantly edited and paced. Aside from that, his multifaceted involvement with Stella Maris is proof of his eclectic skill set. There was huge depth in every frame, a controlled sense of aesthetic that bolstered the story rather than distracted from it with nostalgic gimmicky. Every cinematic convention used has a reason to be there and enhances experience.
Fans of intense religious dramas or movies from the early part of the 20th Century will be in their element in terms of aesthetic filmmaking, but modern cinema fans will also be able to sink their teeth into a wonderful central performance and enduring themes of life and death that continually spark debate.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for Stella Maris below...
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