Light: A short film review

This review of mine was originally published in Shortz.

The good thing about this short is the universality of the experience it is trying to talk about. The compart-‘mental’ising power of technology and its effect on human relations has been conveyed through a simple story albeit one that happens in every home. Its really a good concept which I could easily identify with. But it is undermined by the lack of effective techniques so as to provide the necessary impact.

 ‘Light’ does not take its lighting seriously. When there is supposedly only one light source in the whole house that is the candle, the shadows fall in all the wrong places. At times two shadows are visible, pointing towards two different light sources. When family members come into the room or when grandma lights the candle, the shadows betray the mistake. A simple thing that could have been done was to fix the camera position in an upper level in most of the shots so that the candle is not visible. Then one could have put the lighting source on the table itself.

The repertoire of shots are very limited. I don’t know how much the economic constraints played a role in that. When we see individual characters the shots are not either close ups or complete wide establishers but are stuck midway consistently through out the short. It gives a certain repetitive quality to the whole exercise. Even if one is not using pull ups or pull outs one can easily try some different positions to avoid this ‘locked in’ feeling imparted by the camera. The establishing shots in the initial part of the short are incomplete and feels rushed. When you see the boy playing videogame or the girl listening to music or father working, the director has just gone through the motions of establishing them. Those establishing shots should have lingered more and also should have been more wide to give a feel of the whole room. It would have helped to convey the real feeling of involvement by them in what they are doing. Definitely an extra camera angle would have also helped.

Establishment of grandma has been done very haphazardly in the beginning. The shots of her hands and feet before we really see her lie orphaned in the short without really connecting anywhere. And again when the lights go off, it appears as if it occurs in different rooms at different points of time. The light in the boy’s room going off is shown after it goes off in the kitchen and even after mother makes some comment about it.

Sometimes we over edit our scripts and films. Brevity is not a virtue always. In my opinion this short would have done better with a running time of more than 5-7 minutes. Because the theme of this piece more tone based. Everything depends on evoking a specific mood. And that would always take more time for set up. Here everything is rushed. Within 25 seconds, the sad state of affairs has been established with the lonely grandma and the busy family. The sad music used initially when showing grandma is too obvious and shallow a set up. (Though I should say that the back ground score used is a good one). After power cut kids run away to grandma without any delay and grandma starts about the past state of affairs like a switched on tape recorder. Out of the blue girl asks about the childhood of her father. As if she was waiting to ask the question until some power cut. The whole conversation does not have a natural evolution. Scriptwriter is just making them talk what he wants to hear. The kids going to grandma and the following small talk could have been more slow and natural. In case of time constraints, intermediate portions of the conversation could have been omitted using sudden transitional jump cuts to give an impression of passage of time.

Another issue is that the visuals lack a continuity often causing the audience to get jerked out of the narrative. For example condition of grandma after power is on. Her switching off the light switch appears very disjointed with only hands in the frame and no alternate shots. I don’t know whether it was intentional but anyway it does not work. Another one is the transition from the kids running off and establishing the lonely grandma. Its just ran through. After everyone has gone off, more wide shots would have been appropriate to show the loneliness of the grandma. It should have been more slowly established. We never get the feel of the whole room anywhere in the short. One reason may be that there are no POV shots of the grandmother.

The casting is OK. Only thing is that the male kid literally ‘acts’ at times. And the dialogue delivery by the mother is very poor. But the grandma hits it off very well. She gives a good performance which is effortless and is able to give off a feel of vulnerability and melancholy. If I have to score this short in 1-10, it will be Script: 5; Cinematography: 2; Editing: 3; Acting: 5; Direction: 3 and overall: 4

(Note: After this review was published in Shortz, I received a mail from the maker of this short explaining why everything is so hurried up in this short. He had made it for a short film competition where there were definitive time constraints)

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2 thoughts on “Light: A short film review

  1. That was a very detailed review. Ofcourse this was not a very professionally made film, although I loved the basic idea of this story. I think one mistake which short film directors do is that they compromise on cinematography and lighting for whatever reasons. As you very rightly pointed out, those errors gave the film an amateurish feel. It’s always better to invest in and hire really trained people in these departments. Also, the subtitles had glaring spelling mistakes which is a cardinal sin if one is sending it to prestigious festivals.
    Yes, establishing the characters looked very forced and needed bit more time; I also agree regarding the needed wide shot scenes.

    P.S. I always see very good grasp regarding the cinematography/lighting in your reviews. I was wondering if you have any training/practical experience/self reading in this department or it’s just natural flair developed after keenly watching many films with cinematography in mind?

    1. Dev,
      I reviewed it not because it is such a good short but because chief editor of shortz sent it to me for review. But after reviewing it I realised that we learn more from bad shorts than flawless shorts. The problems are more obivious to us with poorly made shorts.
      Thanks for your compliment regarding my grasp on the technical aspect. No, I dont have any training/practical experience/self reading in any of the technical aspects. But when you see the same short many times, you start to pick up things.

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