Directed by David Bradburn
Starring Anne Jacques, Susan Monts-Bologna, Genevieve VenJohnson & Judi Schindler
Short film review by Chris Olson
Films that conform to genre conventions often find their fundamental throughline in humankind’s fear of something. A romantic comedy may touch upon our fear of ending up alone, or that we fear being judged for being independent, whilst a political thriller plays upon the viewer’s fear indicative of their belief system, or that their passivism will bring around huge change that will negatively affect them. Indeed, a slasher film plays upon our fear of being mutilated horrifically by a maniac with knives...a phobia most people suffer from. Short film The Coming of Age, directed by David Bradburn, takes a far more prevalent concern and the clue is in the title.
Barbara (Anne Jacques) is an elderly lady in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, and at the beginning of the movie is being checked into a care facility. Initially the place looks friendly, after being greeted by an employee (Genevieve VenJohnson) and shown her room which has been adorned with one of Barbara’s paintings in order to make her feel at home. Once she meets the other guests, though, the setting takes on a mysterious and threatening atmosphere with a plethora of abnormal behaviour and antics, ranging from sweet delusions to outright verbal abuse (a fantastic curse-filled rant from Judi Schindler is particularly brilliant). One particular guest, Minnie (Susan Monts-Bologna), attaches herself quickly to Barbara and an initial friendship seems to bloom. However, the invasive nature of Minnie’s behaviour intensifies, whilst Barbara begins to develop curious traits of her own.
This is a wonderfully tragic story told with beautiful craftsmanship. The performers are given enough space to flesh out David E. Tolchinsky’s story without the mood ever dropping focus, or allowing the audience to drift away. Barbara is our entryway into this piece, and through her we experience the deterioration of her grip on reality, and the devastating effects of what it could be like to live with Alzhiemer’s. What was really lovely about the short film was that it did not resort to cheap aesthetic tactics, such as darkness or frantic editing. Everything is filmed in daylight, giving a natural effect to the tone, and the pace is perfectly suited to the story being told.
The performances are wonderful, from this all-female cast. Each character is served up with a vibrancy which elevates the story for the viewer, and the ensemble work well together to create a dynamic which is intense and accessible. This is particularly impressive, as films that typically offer up elderly casts often succumb to hokey clichés and inoffensive blandness. Jacques puts in a magnificent turn, moving through the increasingly terrifying stages of Barbara’s journey with a formidable presence.
On the critical side, there was a bit of a weak moment with the “multiple voices” section, which cheapened the feel of the short film, making it feel like a soap opera. It is also a very familiar way to treat mental illness on screen so offered nothing to the movie’s effect. The sound editing in general was distracting and something which could have been improved with a more subtle approach.
Overall, though, a genuinely engaging, thought-provoking piece that grapples with several universal themes that will touch audiences.