Mar 9, 2023
Becki Lloyd, Liam M. Edwards, Peter Radford
The dark path to superstardom is stylishly pondered in Nick Archer’s Arabesque, a short, impactful drama which demonstrates how the power-wielders in the entertainment world abuse the dreamers and artists who need their backing.
The film follows an ensemble, interconnected cast who share an ambition and taste for greatness, though each with a darker insecurity that hurts either themselves or others. Mads (Peter Radford) and Elodie (Becki Lloyd) pursue creative dreams as an actor and a dancer. Whilst talent agent Aurora Lapp (Bushra Greaves) and writer Shay Morgan (Liam M. Edwards) seek similar success – albeit from a position of power and influence. Struggling addict (and Johnny Depp lookalike) Roman Marshall (Daemian Greaves) exists in the middle, as a photographer indebted to Morgan and willing to go to extreme lengths to maintain his existence. All these paths intertwine in an abusive system with few real winners.
Arabesque is a mature, dynamic and intriguing short film with a pessimistic and critical view of power structures in creative industries. Director Nick Archer does an impressive job of juggling a number of plot threads whilst maintaining a consistent theme and atmosphere in the film, whilst working alongside an impressive cast to build complex and multifaceted characters who stand out on screen. Themes of power, abuse, desperation, coercion and temptation that pervade across multiple interconnected industries are explored in a story that manages to critique whilst acknowledging that such systems have many points of origin, and that most participants in them come in shades of grey rather than black and white.
The film is, quite literally, dark – with outstanding cinematography, lighting and scene-staging matching the film’s sombre and cynical tone perfectly. The intrusive, dominating eye of Roman Marshall’s camera in the film’s central scene focusing on Elodie’s traumatic photoshoot is one example of the filmmakers telling their story beyond a script. Light similarly is used to cast a shadow over the immoral and unseen world the likes of Shay Morgan and Aurora Lapp operate in.
The film’s ensemble-led story allows its cast equal opportunities to shine. Becki Lloyd’s Elodie is the film’s empathetic heart as a naïve but ambitious dancer who is coerced into a difficult and upsetting situation. Daemian Greaves’ Roman Marshall is a troubling and conflicted figure whose immoral actions are just about offset by a clear internal struggle as he begins to see the consequences of his actions. Shay Morgan and Bushra Greaves’ performances are a little more caricatured and outlandish – lacking a lot of the complexity that makes other cast members so engaging. This is largely down to at-times poor and predictable dialogue that relies too much on exposition and cliché. Their physical presence however is undeniable, with both figures presenting as sinister and terrifying at pivotal, pointed moments.
Whilst the dark side of fame is well-explored territory, the world Arabesque builds is challenging, thought-provoking and visceral. Added to a branching plot and striking representation of its angry, brooding themes and message, this memorable short shouldn’t be sleep on – and not least because there are rogue photographers about...