Wet Seal Cigarettes
Nov 26, 2022
Percival Bernard, Earl Weaver Jr.
Nicholas G. Sims, Chloé Lexia Worthington
In an era of languorous cinema, too often dominated by no-risk big-budget reboots, sequels and spinoffs, all of which prioritise profit over heart and creativity, original, well-made storytelling is hard to come by. Out of such eras, however, a new age of creativity tends to be born, in which original storytelling thrives and cinemas do not have to rely on the next superhero film just to break even. ‘Wet Seal Cigarettes’ offers a glimpse of that soon-to-come (hopefully) new age, but does so by harking back to one of cinema’s greatest reinventions - The French New Wave.
Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and predominately in black and white, it is impossible not to think back to the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol when watching ‘Wet Seal Cigarettes’, which never drops the ball that it so magnificently picks up in its opening frame. We open with a man, Nicholas Bordeaux (Nicholas G. Sims) sat on death row, whilst director Percival Bernard tells us that ‘nothing has ever belonged to [Nicholas], not even his life’. It isn’t until we cut back to Nicholas at the film’s conclusion that we understand Bernard’s assertion that Nicholas is ‘suffering under a society of vanity and cigarette smoke’.
From then we venture into a set of seemingly unrelated stories, and the film channels those great French filmmakers, whilst also being reminiscent of Luis Buñuel’s early abstract piece ‘L’Age d’Or'. ‘Wet Seal Cigarettes’ has a message, but it channels it so artfully that it never feels overbearing, and ultimately, much of the film can be left open to interpretation - leaving a much better final product. Split into chapters, the film weaves between English and French, colour and monochrome, animation and live action, heightening the sense of peculiarity.
What made the French New Wave so culturally significant (and SO GOOD) was how it transgressed the stale cinematic and cultural landscape of the 1950s and early 1960s. The films were made in the director’s vision rather than that of a studio, and sought not to reinvent cinema - though they undoubtedly did that - but rather to quench the thirst for cinema to become an art form again. Defined by jump-cuts and creative editing, they had pointed political messages embedded into their loosely-hanging stories, and, in a very bourgeois way, wanted society to evolve and see matters in the same way as the director. ‘Wet Seal Cigarettes’ shares these traits, most notably in its embracement of film as an art, but also through it’s pertinent overarching questions on corporate greed and capitalism. Other messages are touched upon, often humorously, and every scene featuring the two policemen is filled with impeccably executed visual gags.
Writer-director Percival Bernard, with Earl Weaver Jr. acting as assistant director, is inspired both on the screenplay and behind the camera, filling the film with energy and lavish creativity. The film is meta, with running gags regarding the subtitles over the dialogue spoken in French, largely by Chloé Lexia Worthington, credited as Darling, as she sparks a philosophical conversation with Nicholas over coffee. Both Nicholas G. Sims and Chloé Lexia Worthington work competently with the script they are given, and the supporting cast is all solid, but this is a film which shines the spotlight most brightly on its director rather than its actors. Bernard captures more than the aesthetic of the French New Wave, he captures its spirit, and that is more than enough to suggest a bright future in the film industry.
Some may call films like ‘Wet Seal Cigarettes’ pretentious or artsy, but that is inevitable whenever a story broaches anything resembling profound philosophy, and should instead be seen as much-deserved praise. ‘Wet Seal Cigarettes’ is one of the purest most unabashedly creative pieces of filmmaking you’ll likely see this year, and a must-see for anyone wanting to escape from the dross encapsulating much of cinema at this current time.