Little Deaths (1996)
Written & Directed by Lynne Ramsay
I need to explore the early work of Lynne Ramsay. She’s made two of my favorite films of the 2010s, We Need To Talk About Kevin & You Were Never Really Here. Small Deaths was her debut short after graduating from the U.K.‘s National Film and Television School. The film is composed of three vignettes centered around an unnamed girl growing into adolescence and early adulthood.
Each act is marked by an observation about the way male figures regard women. In the first, she’s a little girl who watches her disinterested father excuse himself without regard to his wife’s concerns of when he’ll be coming home. In the second act, she finds herself fancying a boy while playing in a field with her sister. Her crush ends up being part of a group of boys who leave a cow bleeding and dying in the grass, an image that haunts the girl. In the final act, she is now a young adult whose boyfriend has brought her to an apartment where he shoots up with his friends. The woman is the victim of a cruel prank and leaves her embarrassed and withdrawn.
There’s also recurring images of family. In the third chapter, we see a baby standing alone in his crib while in the next room, his mother and her friends tie off and shoot up. Ramsay withholds commenting, letting the camera observe and then showing her main character’s muted reactions. This is not a nostalgic return to childhood, but an examination of the melancholy nature of being a child and the moments where naivety is stripped away and the grim reality of the world is made clear.
Lick the Star (1998)
Written Sofia Coppola & Stephanie Hayman
Directed by Sofia Coppola
One year later, Sofia Coppola, daughter of film legend Francis Ford, would be at Cannes with her feature debut The Virgin Suicides. But in 1998, she was taking this short picture around the film festival circuit. Here we have a clique of middle school girls led by Chloe. This ‘queen bee’ is obsessed with V.C. Andrews’ gothic novel ‘Flowers in the Attic.’ It gets to the point that she’s inspired to lead her quartet of girls in poisoning a group of boys with small doses of arsenic. A series of events leads to Chloe losing her position. She becomes a social pariah, now on the outside of the system of which she had been the core.
The themes and tones that are present in Coppola’s later feature work are all on display here. Like The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and Marie Antoinette there’s an emphasis on a lazy, dreamy quality of storytelling. Young women appear to be in no rush and are deeply introspective about the world around them. A recurring visual motif in Coppola’s films is an opening with a young woman being driven in a car, and this short opens the same way. There’s a sense that young women aren’t in control of any aspect of their lives, ushered along by older people and men to be put in their places. We see this with the Lisbon sisters and Marie Antoinette.
Lick the Star feels very much like a product of its time, dripping with 90s grunge punk music. The clothes and slang are reflective of what you would have seen in middle schools across America at the end of the millennium. Coppola chooses to tell the story from the point of view of a narrator who isn’t at the center of the clique, hobbling back to school after an injury and trying to catch up on what’s going on. This would be seen again in The Virgin Suicides, where the neighbor boys narrate about the little knowledge they have on the Lisbons.
Mr. Malcolm’s List (2019)
Written by Suzanne Allain
Directed by Emma Holly Jones
This is slightly different from most short films I review in that it’s mostly proof of concept for a feature film. Mr. Malcom’s List started as a novel written by Suzanne Allain, a piece set in the Georgian period of England drawing inspiration from the works of Jane Austen. The book was turned into a screenplay by Allain and has been on The Black List, a list of scripts read by insiders in Hollywood who have said these are the best-unproduced movies out there.
Emma Holly Jones is a young director who was drawn to the script but also saw it as an opportunity to play with audience expectations. The cast of Mr. Malcolm’s List features people of color in roles that they have not traditionally represented in Austen style romantic comedies. For her short, she cast Gemma Chan, Freida Pinto, and others in the lead roles. Earlier in the year, based on this short film, it was announced that a feature was in development.