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Black Screen

average rating is 3 out of 5


Joe Beck


Posted on:

Mar 12, 2024

Film Reviews
Black Screen
Directed by:
Mohamed Mussa
Written by:
Mohamed Mussa
Hanns Gal, Stuart Nixon

There’s great beauty in the mundanity of life, but also pain, anguish, and frustration. Whilst the smallest parts of our life can sometimes bring us incredible satisfaction, though we may never understand why, the repetitiveness of the everyday can also wear us down into a state of exhaustion and despair at the cyclical nature of our life, with the feeling that we are getting nowhere.


This is something shown by ‘Black Screen’, which makes the mundane seem dangerously alluring, yet ever so painful and delicate as well. Mohamed Mussa’s film opens with the sound of heavy breathing before a violin kicks in playing a tempered, high pace tune to reflect a state of rising panic in the yet unseen heavy breather. The subject of the heavy breathing is never named, though he is a man played by Hanns Gal, who we first encounter lying in his bed, seemingly holding back tears whilst we assume his world surrounds him.


So much of the film carries the same ambiguity through it, which is both to its credit, and its pitfall. Whilst such ambiguity is at times beautiful, particularly in an extended sequence in which Gal’s character is dramatically dancing around his room, swaying and moving rhythmically, and maybe, for the only time in the film, happily, before he takes down a note of something that has popped into his head. Much of life is like the dance, we sway and move, often in happiness, before something comes along, and disrupts our flow, though rarely are we disrupted as abruptly as the sharp cut which ends this scene, when perhaps it hadn’t reached its natural conclusion.


Gal’s performance is central to the film, and really what tethers it together, with very little else making much sense. From struggling to hold in his tears as he lies on his bed, to the immense pain of repression which he is able to express just from a series of angry yelps in the shower, often the only place a man can truly give into his vulnerability, where nobody can hear or see tears running down his face. It is a remarkable performance, one of tenderness, vulnerability, yet also repression, as he is forced to hold in the words he wishes to say and instead express his anger or pain through grunts and sad, despairing looks. 


Indeed the first lines of dialogue are not even uttered until the eighteenth minute of the film, when Gal and his characters friend, played by Stuart Nixon, engage in a breezy philosophical talk as they walk down the road on a sunny summer’s evening. They talk about unlocking the full potential of the human mind and Gal says ‘what must rise must fall’, and very little of what they say makes any coherent sense. It’s as though Mussa had several interesting ideas, and wanted his characters to vocalise them all, without any through line between. The film is at its best when nobody is talking.


Therefore ‘Black Screen’ is a frustrating film to watch, for though its beauty is in its unspoken ambiguity, it perhaps leans into this too much and sacrifices audience engagement for that, with the attempt to reinvest the viewers with dialogue, which is similarly ambiguous, falling well flat.

About the Film Critic
Joe Beck
Joe Beck
Short Film
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