Talking Pictures

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Shrapnel

Posted by keith1942 on April 27, 2012

The young woman on the train.

UK 2010, colour, 12 minutes.

Written and directed by Robert March.

This was a very effective entry in the Bradford International Film Festival New Shorts, one of the pleasures of Festivals rarely enjoyed in regular cinema. My Collins English Dictionary defines the title word as ‘a projectile containing a number of small pellets or bullets exploded before impact’. My colloquial sense of its common usage is that we refer to the fragments left in the body of a victim of such a projectile. This seems to be the sense in which the filmmakers are using the word. The main protagonist is a veteran of the 1991 Gulf war and is clearly psychologically scarred by that experience. Essentially we see him in two situations, first at his work on the railways, either in a dim and dank cabin or on the tracks and sidings where he labours. The second is on an electric train [in West Yorkshire] where he strikes up a conversation with a young woman.

Their conversation opens up memories and traumas and also raises an intriguingly powerful question. In keeping with contemporary narratives this remains unresolved, though we do learn in a voice-over of the traumas and their effects on the man and his lost family.

There is a stark contrast between the atmospheric camera work in the dark and eerie rail sidings and the brash daylight of the rail carriage. This produces a slightly noir effect suitable to the downbeat situation. The daytime shots are in shallow focus, mainly due, I think, to digital photography. But this enables the intended close focus on the older man and the younger woman.

The Festival Catalogue suggested that the ending of the film forces the protagonist to ‘face the biggest decision of his life.’ My reading of the film was that his situation has already pre-empted any such decision: a sense reinforced by a very specific last action and shot. It was this sense that made the film such a suitable companion to the feature that afternoon, Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979).

 

 

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