Plain and Simple

in 21st Saguenay International Short Film Festival

by Dennis Vetter

There is a particular color density when a huge man and his tiny teenage daughter sit next to each other on the couch, facing their TV screen. She looks like a fairy during these dreamlike moments, especially in contract to this monumental father figure. Carefully lit and arranged to preserve a still life of two bodies, this shot couldn’t be any less flat in design or in lighting. Still, it seems designed to be reductive; to be minimalist. It seems designed to witness a reduction, or a failure, of depth. But this shot isn’t alone: There’s a certain flatness and incompleteness present throughout the entire film, and all characters are forced to be part of this flatness, limited in their movements and tools to articulate. Unsatisfied. Bound for change.

Well, in the scene, the nameless girl isn’t actually facing the TV screen. Rather, she’s looking at the floor or the air around her. Her dad is constantly eating. Sometimes it seems she is paying a grim attention to the overly familiar interiors of the small house they live in, curtains quietly lit by an outlandish yellow cast by the nearby street lights. Of course, the father isn’t really watching TV either. He is obviously more occupied with his food than with watching. Prior to his dinner, he watch as he sings on a webcam, to a remote girl in a sexy albeit boring video chat. When his daughter comes home, she can already hear him singing from the street. She knows what’s happening inside. The melody of the song he sings is plain and simple. It’s easy to recognize. Isn’t it?

This echoes the punk song that keeps reappearing in the film, linked to a young skater. What could be more obvious, or more plain, than punk? “I don’t want your love.” “I will never be like you.” These are promises of an attitude that are too simple to prevail over any reality. Still, they remain helpful for this young outsider—a guiding force, perhaps. In his eyes, this music hums with heartfelt intensity, not unlike the yellow light in the other scene: This isn’t a question of complexity, but one of dimension. A dimension that might open up spaces for positioning, for a reconsideration of circumstances—or a concussion. There is a hope for change in the ever-recurring monotonies and stagnations of the film, and the boy’s punk philosophy, his politicized melody—like the French song on the webcam— leave no doubt about the potential of conscious gestures. Just look at the name of the punk band: “Blood for Blood.”This obsession with punk results in an equation—a manifesto for abolishing hegemonies—to allow the stubborn simplicity of the musicto takeover and reject aesthetic rulein addition to orientation. Like all punk music, disorientation maycreatenew spaces for anarchism.

Plain and Simple treats all bodies and psychologies equally: Big or small, even alive or dead. Earlier, when the young girl sits in acting class, the teacher wants to discuss how gestures relate to tics. Involuntary gestures and voluntary gestures. She knows the game: When designing a character, adding small gestures as tics can improve the quality of a performance. It can make a persona more convincing, more authentic in its flaws. More human, as it were. And yet, putting too much emphasis on these flaws can also lead to effects of alienation, weirdness, and caricature. The teacher shows a video of the girl, grainy VHS on an old TV. No flatscreen. She’s presenting a monologue. Does Julie act consciously or does she accidentally hide behind her arms while acting? The teacher wants to know. The class seems to be sure. Julie won’t comment. And the two possibilities become inseparable from any upcoming performance and the gaze of this particular audience. Like the undefined relation to gestures carries on throughout the film.

Plain and Simple (Tout simplement) by Raphaël Ouellet: Conscious decisions defending dimensions of the unconscious. An unconscious that of course defies hegemonies and narratives. Inevitably a film about love!

Edited by Jake Howell