review on Snap

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Thoughts on Shorts:

Stroke, Funny Little Guy, Snap

Films like Christine Jeffs’ Stroke are bound to provoke debate on the amount of money being spent on a select few short films these days. With a substantial Film Commission budget, Stroke looks terrific, if looking like a commercial means looking terrific (I kept waiting for the pack shot). In this case, the product on offer seems to be ‘female flower power’ . . .a chubby woman in a floral bathing cap vies with a ferociously competitive male swimming team for control of a pool. Cue luscious cinematography, slo mo showers of water, toned male bods, etc. The concept is more than a little simplistic (female tranquillity vs male competitiveness) but to be fair, Jeffs has a superb eye – Stroke really is beautiful to look at; and the soundtrack by Australian Antony Partos is likewise excellent. It’s just a pity the idea behind the film is so slight. Stroke‘s no better and no more profound than a lot of the best commercials currently on television. One has to wonder whether Film Commission money is well spent on cinematography alone.

Funny Little Guy, on the other hand, is a short film that looks like a short film. Almost too much so – what is it with short filmmakers and retro 50’s/60’s fashion? Anyway, it’s the tale of a young woman writing home from a roadside caravan somewhere in the sticks. One of those movies best described by that unfortunate word ‘quirky’; aliens in silver space suits; sequinned dresses; big dangly earrings. You get the idea. Self consciously ‘quirky’ movies tend to be a bit like Big Macs – they may be tasty, but you get the feeling you’ve had this experience somewhere before. For all that, Funny Little Guy is bouncy, frothy and fun, if not quite as charming as it thinks it is.

It’s rare to find a short film as immaculately realised as Stuart McKenzie’s Snap. A tale of the ‘fantastic’, where the boundaries of the real are revealed to be inherently unstable, Snap explores its genre with confidence and skill. In this tale of a photographer who isn’t quite what he seems, a past that keeps seeping into the present, and a camera that really can steal the soul, an atmosphere of indefinable menace is present from the beginning. McKenzie doesn’t make the common mistake of thinking he needs to explain his characters to us, but cuts straight to the chase. Every image and almost every line in this movie suggests something else, something that’s not quite stated, just outside the boundaries of perception. This is what makes Snap linger in the mind; something’s going on. The image of a fountain that is at once a painted backdrop, a movie image and a real space exemplifies this central ambiguity. It’s almost a bonus that Snap is beautifully shot. Perhaps this is the measure of a good script; a film that would still be interesting, even if it didn’t look any good.

– Leonie Reynolds

First published in ‘the big picture’, Spring1995