Directed by Jo Bareun
Starring Balgan Batjargal
Short Film Review by Leonardo Goi
All too often short films are blamed for trying to address too much in too short a time. Jo Bareun’s Vibration is an exception to the rule. It tells a story that could have easily turned into a feature-length film and does it in just over thirteen minutes. But a brilliant plot twist, intelligent directing and superb acting turn it into a remarkable short feature.
While sorting through his late wife’s belongings, an Asian widower (Balgan Batjargal) living in an unidentified British town makes an unexpected discovery: his wife owned a vibrator. Unsure about the exact nature and function of the dildo, the man first uses it to massage his back, until the sight of a sex-shop window during a late-night stroll clears all doubts. Furious, the widower embarks on a quest to destroy the dildo, which proves unsuccessful: the vibrator resists all smashing, cannot be broken, and keeps buzzing even underwater.
No, Vibration is not an ad for the world’s strongest sex toy, nor is it a cheap, tasteless comedy that works by making fun of its grieving protagonist. For even during its most ironic and surreal moments, Vibration remains a profoundly sad tale. Bareun does not all too simply tell the story of a man fighting against a dildo, but a widower struggling to square the idyllic image of his late wife with a life she never shared with him.
No words are uttered during Vibration’s 13 minutes, and the loudest noise comes from the dildo’s buzz. The fact that the feature is able to say so much with no words speaks volumes of the talent required to make the experiment work.
That irony and pain coexist so graciously is a testament to Bareun’s directing skills and his ability to convey so much through a minimalist style that seems to document the widower’s grief as opposed to dramatising it.
But much of Vibration’s success must be credited to Batjargal’s superb performance. The old man must not only fight with his late wife’s past, but with the city and culture he is immersed in, but never fully a part of. Bareun’s directing and Batjargal’s performance turn both into foreign lands. The widower is an alien in his wife’s secret life as he is in a country whose customs he does not seem to understand, and walks clumsily in both.
Billy Godfrey’s sound production and Song Minwoo’s cinematography make Vibration a joy to hear and watch. It is thanks to the spotless sound design that the dildo’s buzz eventually takes up an obsessive undertone worthy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, while the palette intelligently mirrors the protagonist’s feelings, shifting from cold to brighter hues as the feature reaches its cathartic ending.
Vibration will probably go down as the first short film in which the lead character buries his late wife’s dildo. But it will also, and more importantly, go down as the brilliant and much needed proof that short films, if written, shot and acted with intelligence and empathy, can achieve so much in such short time.