SXSW Shorts 2011: ‘Nocturn’

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Directed by Leanne Welham

Written by Leanne Welham

UK-England, 2010

Joining other 2011 SXSW films like Green, 96 Minutes, Small Beautifully Moving Parts, The Dish & and the Spoon, My Sucky Teen Romance and quite a few others, Nocturn was both written and directed by a woman. Leanne Welham’s film departs from the other titles now recognizable post-festival in that she tells her story in the amount of time it takes to fix and enjoy a cup of tea.

Let’s make that caffeinated tea. Nocturn is a 16-minute glimpse into what might be behind those late-night screeching tires we sometimes hear from the comfort of our warm beds. While the rest of us stir fitfully in our sleep at the sound of rowdy passersby outside, Jody (Tamzin Malleson) is awake, wandering the streets of her London neighborhood.

We only ever speculate what it is that drives Jody out of the home she shares with her husband and child at night, but we get the feeling that Jody is the source of her own unhappiness. One of these sleepless nights, she encounters a young couple at a gas station and tenderly, she steps out of her comfort zone and into the back seat of this couple’s car.

Malleson plays Jody with a nervous energy that is as painful as watching a grown woman go through puberty again. In her attempt to feel young or maybe just to feel something at all, she allows herself to be put in a strange, even potentially dangerous position. Jennie Jacques plays Nina, the female half of the couple that begs Jody to come along, and in her hot red lipstick she’s hard to refuse.  Nina is young, beautiful and devilish but her seduction only lasts so long and goes so far.

Welham does a lot with very little in her film. The techno music that blasts from the car recalls sweaty Euro nightclubs. The use of slow motion at the film’s climax makes the scene akin to summoning a memory through an early morning hangover; fuzzy on the where and when of the night before but sharp on the outing’s embarrassing moments.

Jody may not find who she is this particular night, but she has very decidedly found who she is not, and it’s this type of small but important discovery in a person that short films like this one are able to convey without beating anyone over the head. It’s refreshing to be able to experience an entire story through a short, voyeuristic peek into a character’s life.

While still obviously outnumbered by men, the percentage of films directed by women at SXSW is far higher than the percentage in the mainstream. The number of films directed by women that play at the local Cinemark or land a review in the New York Times is scant.  But landing a film in SXSW is no small feat, in fact, if the festival works the way it’s supposed to, we should be seeing more from female directors whose films did well here, and ideally this talent will bleed out into a wider platform for the majority to enjoy.

Alice Gray

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