7 Jan 2022
Andy Kastelic, Sarah Minnich, Trine Christensen
The short story of a grief-stricken gravedigger in the American Old West hits upon thoroughly contemporary emotional beats in Andy Kastelic’s The Misanthrope. This beautifully shot short is one which will start your 2022 off right.
A small town in an American desert is stricken by a mystery plague. A gravedigger named Jeb (Kastelic) perseveres with his morbidly increased workload. But as more and more mourners leave flowers upon gravesites, Jeb imposes a tyrannical rule: that all flowers be banned from the graveyard. His cruel proclamation is intertwined with his own tragedy – and confronting this is the only hope for his own soul.
The Misanthrope is a wonderful short tackling the heavy subjects of death, loss, grief, and acceptance, whilst delivering beautiful cinematography and stunning performances to make for a dynamic and affecting experience. Jeb’s journey from despair, into tyranny and anger, before reaching a nadir which triggers redemption, is a classic tale – but one which feels fresh and alive thanks to director and star Andy Kastelic’s imaginative and inventive storytelling. A montage of mourners, each echoing each other’s eulogies act as hammer blows to Jeb’s hidden grief. Ethereal visions of Jeb’s wife Kitty (Sarah Minnich) tell us the story of his pain. And Tom Schuch’s narrator provides an appropriately gruff cowboy voiceover to keep proceedings grounded, and personal.
Of course, the real-life parallels with the current pandemic, and the vast loss of life felt all over the world are clear to see. The film’s message that anger is no cure for grief is plain and relevant for modern audiences. And the clear theme of the good that a loving community can achieve is similarly evident. The story transcends Covid, and is much more than a metaphor for current events. But the profound circumstances of its creation cannot be ignored.
The film features a striking performance from director Andy Kastelic. His Jeb has echoes of the fanatical Eli Sunday played by Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood, as the gravedigger’s zealous and vengeful forbidding of flowers acts as a lashing out against his own suffering. There are some moments where the performance begins to feel a little stagey, and reactions of the mourning community to Jeb’s malice would have assisted in making some scenes feel more natural. However, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise domineering presence that audiences will be engrossed by. The rest of the cast feature in relatively small roles, however their monologues for their lost loved ones are emotional and heart-breaking – particularly that of William Sterchi as ‘The Rose’.
The film is also visually stunning. The bright, wide shots of the open vista clash with the dreadful circumstances the town faces – and this hints that Jeb’s negativity and bitterness is in conflict with what his own surroundings and community are trying to offer him. The desert setting also feels simultaneously alive, whilst also barren enough to allow for the cast – primarily Kastelic – to dominate the screen with their expressive and complete performances. Production is truly in the film’s favour – and audiences will feel immersed in the old west thanks to the brilliantly realised sets and costumes whilst also spoken to by excellent and modern filming and camerawork.
The performances and presentation of The Misanthrope are reason enough to seek it out, but the message at the heart of this short will connect to audiences in a way that few films truly manage. For a film about death, there is a lot of life to it.