★★★★★ Directed by: Maxime-Claude L’écuyer Starring: Georges Molnar Short Film Review by: Darren Tilby
Zsofika begins with the muffled and haunting sound of a gramophone playing somewhere in the background. The camera – which is peering into a seemingly vacant bedroom – begins to pan slowly through the door and around the corner, and, as we enter the room proper, we’re introduced to the film’s solitary character; an older gent, standing alone. What follows is a 14-minute long, contemplative internal monologue; filled with regret and loneliness and remorse. Zsofika is swathed in a relentless melancholic ambience, and is, at heart, a deeply affecting anti-war movie which studies the cost of a lifetime dedicated to war.
The cinematography and soundtrack come together to exude an atmosphere that’s murky and dour; totally in keeping with the narrative, never faltering.
The camera work here is remarkable: the framing and lighting consistently produce shots which are stunning, beautiful, and full of symbolism: Cracks in the walls represent not only the physical damage wrought by war, but also the devastating, yet subtle, psychological effects war has had on this man and his relationships.
The home’s lack of modernisation speaks of a prolonged absence; a life spent elsewhere; a lifetime of decisions the man now has to confront. Even the arrangement of the furniture – which is all placed around the edges of the rooms, leaving large empty spaces towards the centre – adds to the feeling of emptiness; within the house and the man.
Nothing on camera is wasted, and the use of slow panning movements and long, unbroken shots, allow the unnamed man to guide us and tell his story, without it ever becoming a distraction or a disturbance.
Georges Molnar delivers a wonderfully understated performance as the unnamed man; a role which relies upon the actor’s ability to “speak” solely through body language and facial expression. Thankfully, Molnar not only succeeds but indeed excels in this medium. Director, Maxime-Claude L’écuyer, makes excellent use of this unique talent with several lingering close-up shots; showing a face full of remorse and self-loathing.
The score consists entirely of music played through an old gramophone; a design choice that works magnificently with this film; lending a haunted house quality as it rolls sporadically in and out of tune. It’s perfect: perhaps more impressive though is the film’s use of silence: sound designer, Olivier Calvert – who may just be a genius – never misses the mark, and is able to conjure these captivating moments of long contemplation with one of the most perceptive, and effective uses of silence I think I’ve ever seen.
Whilst there’s no real script to talk of – with the movie having no spoken dialogue – Jean Barbe has written an incredibly thought-provoking, and poignant monologue which is delivered to perfection.
Zsofika is a work of art; a masterclass in short film-making. Everything just seems to come together so perfectly, and everyone involved should be hugely proud of the film they have made. A film which is, particularly by the end, sobering and poignant.
Zsofika couldn’t have worked as a feature-length movie, and is proof, if proof were needed, that short films are a classification of their own; much more than the low budget, amateur effort that some people presume: feature-length films aren’t better than short films, they’re a completely different form of creative expression, and Zsofika is a prime example of a director using that particular medium and achieving something that most directors could learn a thing or two from.
It’s been an enormous privilege to have been asked to watch and review this film, and I hope that others will seek it out too.