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Short Film Sunday: All These Creatures

Malu Rocha reviews the short film that won the prestigious Palme d'Or prize at Cannes

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All These Creatures website


All These Creatures is a deeply personal short film that explores a young boy's attempts to come to grips with his memories in order to see his father for who he really is. This coming of age film deals with themes such as compassion and parenthood and explores the fine line between what constitutes a 'bad person' and a mentally ill person, as seen through the eyes of an adolescent boy.

The film makes a comparison between the father's state of mind and the cicada bug infestation they have in their backyard, which develops into an extended metaphor throughout the film. Although the bugs become an almost poetic portrayal of mental health, the rawness of its consequences on loved ones prevents it from becoming romanticised. Even though there is an underlying magical tone to the story, the seriousness of its themes is never overshadowed.

The choice of contrasting humans with bugs is quite innovative and thought provoking, inviting the audience to question if the bugs are more human than the actual humans. At a certain point in the film, the narrator finally talks about achieving a peaceful state of mind, a sensation which is coupled with a sequence of the bugs. Frantically waving off bugs is not usually an image associated with peace, which makes this metaphorical element all the more poetic and beautiful.

One of the most memorable tropes of this film is its extensive use of voice-over narration by the main character, Tempest. This is extremely daring considering the unwritten cinema 'law' which states that the narration shouldn't tell the audience what they can already see on the screen. However, director Charles Williams pulls it off by shifting the audience's attention towards the poetry that accompanies Tempest's confused teenage thoughts.
"At school they taught us about how people can get sick in their brain, the way they can get sick in their belly. And no one knows for sure which part is the sickness and which part is just you."

It could even be argued that the main focus of the film lies precisely in the character's voice. It's clear to see how much thought was dedicated to it; which translates not only in Tempest's words, but also in the way he articulates that inner monologue. His intonation stays constant throughout, expressing happy thoughts in the same monotone that he expresses his deepest concerns. The character talks about extremely sensitive and emotional feelings with a very prominent lack of emotion in his voice, making this disparity extremely effective and compelling.

All These Creatures website


Although the film extensively uses voice-over, it is scarce with its dialogue, and therefore relies heavily upon the actors' performances to deliver facial expressions and body language that accurately translates the delicate emotions of the characters; Yared Scott and Mandela Mathia do just that. The casting process was not guided by gender or appearance, as often is the case. Instead, the director approached this by searching through hundreds of young boys and girls for someone that had the right combination of innocence and maturity and consequently rewriting the film around them.

Yared's character is surprisingly (and refreshingly) passive, a directorial decision which deserves praise, for it is rarely seen in the silver screen and was successfully accomplished by Williams. Tempest's calm nature amidst the turmoil in his life is shown not only through the lack of emotion in his voice, but also in his expressions. Williams describes it best as an "unacknowledged sadness" combined with a very raw and "inherently fascinating" presence which reads very well on camera.

The raw performance of the actors is juxtaposed with a very self-conscious cinematographical style. There is always movement on screen, whether it's coming from the camera or the characters, which helps maintain the poetical pace of the film. In fact, it's utterly impressive how cinematographer Adric Watson was able to reflect such intricate poetry on screen. A very subtle stylistic choice can be seen in the carefully planned frame compositions. In the opening scene for example, something so simple such as the positioning of the window frames or the clothes hanging from the drying rack were placed so strategically as to keep the father's face covered for a few seconds longer than usual, making it not a mistake, but a very effective tool for character exposition through the eyes of the main character. Another interesting choice was the (maybe unintentional) lack of frontal shots of the characters. Instead, we often see the back of their heads or some parts of their body, but rarely their faces. This stylistic choice can sometimes make the audience feel disconnected from the characters, or sometimes have the opposite effect and leave them curious and wanting more, the latter being true in this case.

All These Creatures website


The magical tone present in the story is also reflected in the cinematography through the use of a couple of slow-motion shots. Usually an afterthought, slow-motion can greatly impair a film, however, this film used them brilliantly and scarcely. The slow-motion shots fit well with the film's premise and surprisingly don't slow down the pace of the story. The most impressive one being a shot of a bicycle that seems to be pedalling on its on for a few seconds until we finally see its owner. It's a very simple shot with no dramatic element, but it has a deeper poetic connotation that mirrors the rest of the film perfectly.

Coupled with the impeccable cinematography, is the rich sound design that reflects the fragmented nature of recollecting memories. This atmospheric sound design combined with the monotone voice of the character's narration gives this film a necessary touch of melancholy it reaches for. You can really hear the silence, and it is deafening. At times, you almost don't know if you would rather listen to the horrible silence or the (arguably) horrible things the protagonist is thinking.

Although the film is heavily stylised, it prides itself in bringing a touch of magic and wonder to the smallest of details in its portrayal of mental health, making it one of the most important short films of the year.

Learn more about the film on its website.

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