26 Aug 2021
Marshall Weishuai Yuan
Marshall Weishuai Yuan
Sangeetha Gowda, Vicki Gard, Jasmine Cavanough
The perils of social media obsession are explored in Marshall Weishuai Yuan’s Perpetua, a short film which explores the cyclical nature of online validation through the experience of an aspiring young model.
Arya (Sangeetha Gowda) spends her evenings perfecting her online profile in an attempt to further ambitions of fame and fortune. Her small following gets her noticed by prestigious photographer Rich (Firdaws Adelpour), but her mother Sandra (Vicki Gard) is concerned why she has seemingly been selected at random. Arya excitedly ignores her warnings, but discovers that the online fashion world has a dark side.
Perpetua is an intriguing short film which addresses contemporary challenges young women face in the modern modelling industry, and the deceptive ways in which filters, lighting and camera angles distort reality and trigger feelings of inadequacy. The film aims at the dual targets of predatory power brokers, as well as society’s inability to combat our tendency to judge ourselves against a perfect, unrealistic ideal. In only 14 minutes, the film effectively demonstrates the dangers of both, with a straightforward yet foreboding and authentic story.
The film has some rough edges which drag the overall quality down, such as unimaginative camerawork and clunky, awkward dialogue at times. Scenes between Arya and her mother grind the pace of the film to a halt and the relationship between the two is not established satisfactorily. The film does pick up in the modelling studio, where subtle clues to Rich’s nature are sprinkled throughout until his disturbing behaviour is revealed to the viewer. It is an excellent demonstration of how predatory figures are able to evade the consequences of their actions, and a necessary warning in a post-‘Me Too’ world. Arya’s antagonistic interactions with experienced model Nancy (Jasmine Cavanough) are another excellent demonstration of the toxicity of the industry.
Sangeetha Gowda’s performance as Arya is strong throughout – with her building sense of discomfort in the studio and crushing sorrow once she realises the consequences of the deception both heart-breaking and disturbing. Her initial naivety and determination to follow through on her dream set up her tragic exploitation – and allow viewers to understand that even outwardly confident people can have their insecurities taken advantage of. Firdaws Adelpour similarly shines as the slimy Rich – an initially warm and inviting figure who takes advantage of industrial power and natural charisma to blur the lines of abuse with girls he works with. Adelpour’s layered display prevents the character becoming a caricature, and demonstrates the complexities which allow such figures to avoid punishment so often.
The film’s ambiguous ending will leave some viewer’s downbeat; however, the cyclical nature of the film is crucial for the key theme – that being the need to break the never-ending feedback loop which coerces young girls to aspire for a perfection which they are constantly bombarded with, but is totally illusionary.
There is a hint that Arya’s method of regaining some of her independence could be the key for this, and this interpretation of the film’s finale does offer some semblance of a happy ending. But beyond this, the film is a scathing criticism, and important warning, of the dangers of an industry - and a society - that has failed to challenge serious problems. With this short, Yuan highlights this in an engaging and informative fashion.