Directed by Vasily Chuprina
Starring Ad Van Kempen and Rom Elzakkers
Short Film Review by Andrew Young
German short film director Vasily Chuprina’s recent work The Boy By the Sea is short, slight and sad. At just 6 minutes long, it is a film with no frills, a film that makes its point concisely, eloquently and movingly. Written by Chuprina’s regular collaborator Andreas Illmer in Dutch and starring Dutch actors Ad Van Kempen and Rom Elzakkers, whilst being a Dutch-Latvian co-production, The Boy By the Sea is a film that in its production stretches across borders, and in its content is universal.
The plot, if it can be called a plot, sees Van Kempen’s ageing sailor approach a young boy who is sat, unsurprisingly, by the sea. The boy talks with no inhibition to the old man as he muses about the fate of the stones he sends into the water. He’s looked at the bottom and he can’t find them, so “where do they go?” asks the sweet yet melancholic child. He concludes that maybe after they sink, the stones end up in heaven, along with the stick that floats on the surface, as if among the clouds above. The old man listens intently, before coming to the realisation, as may well the audience, that such thoughts in the boy have been stirred by someone close to him being one of those very stones.
The film is unwaveringly simple and sincere in its presentation of this death-centric metaphor and a touching, if fleeting, relationship. It must be said that there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about Chuprina’s film. The death metaphor is effective but straight-forward, albeit given a lovely layer of complexity by the stick floating among the heavens – a possible symbol of God, as he floats among the clouds and walks on water. The kindly old man and small child forming an “unlikely” friendship and the familial tragedy at sea are not strikingly original storytelling devices. Yet, whilst it may lessen the film slightly on reflection, it does nothing to reduce its power and beauty when it is playing.
Each aspect of The Boy by the Sea works in harmony to create a definite, affecting tone. Artyom Zakharenko’s shots of the coast are filled with a kind of bleak beauty, the colour palette drained of vibrancy but retaining the inescapable peace of the location. The score by Julian Scherle is equally effective in creating this mood, making itself known without being intrusive, or for that matter eminently memorable. As in most simple yet well-told stories, praise must be given to the performances. Young Rom Elzakkers imbues his character with an innocence and curiosity, whilst clearly conveying the sadness and stoicism in a young child going through tragedy. Ad Van Kempen’s decision not to go for the grizzled-yet-soft-on-the-inside approach pays off, slightly subverting character cliché. Instead, he comes across as a man who has come to accept the tragedies of the seas, whilst remaining in bittersweet awe of its beauty. The whole short plays like the stand-out scene from a larger film; it would be one about coming of age, innocence, nature, friendship, religion, family and death. That The Boy By the Sea can distil all of that into one scene that can also stand alone is an impressive feat.
If there is anything that lessens the impact of Chuprina’s film, it is that the meaning of the metaphor is perhaps over-explained. The way the old man almost spells out what the boy and us were probably already thinking feels superfluous and jars with the delicate, fairly subtle tone of the rest of Illmer’s well-written script, therefore diminishing the carefully crafted mood. A more positive look at this could be to interpret the more open and frank remarks of the old man as a signal that he is more accepting of the death, having probably witnessed similar tragedies before. The child needs to encase himself in uncertain metaphor, not just clinging to a hope of heaven but the hope that the stone might reappear; the old man is long past that. Either way, short film The Boy By the Sea is a touching, beautifully told snapshot of a tragedy that showcases talent on all sides.