If you’re someone who goes to a fair amount of film festivals, you’ll get to see a lot of high quality short films as well as feature-lengths; shorts often surpass features in terms of standards, demonstrating imagination and vision which can evidently get lost along the way to a more standard ninety minutes, so it is heartrending that so many of these films disappear without a trace. The decision to make your film public access on a site like Youtube must be a difficult one in many ways, but I am always glad when I track down a short film which I loved on the big screen One of these is The 3rd Letter, directed by Grzegorz Jonkajtys.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, the most frightening dystopian futures are, for me, the ones we recognise. Soylent Green is so effective because we know those overcrowded streets, understand the concept of wide-scale corruption and exploitation. The 3rd Letter (2010) takes an incredibly bleak future as its setting but it, too, is recognisable: it is a world of health and safety announcements and promises of ‘building a better future’. It is a world of late bills, dreadful jobs, broken homes and the isolation of anonymity, but here, when you can’t get the voice recognition software on the end of the phone to understand your requests, you are in real danger of having the insurance policy which controls your pacemaker battery terminated.
Our protagonist, Jeffrey Brief (Rodrigo Lopresti) seems to be on the edge of his sanity throughout the short time we know him. He says little, but when he does speak he is on the brink of collapse. He interacts with no one face-to-face, except the thuggish landlord who comes for his overdue rent, and when he wants to speak to someone on the phone he is thwarted twice. With just little touches, Brief’s loneliness and state of mind come across, and the pathos in the film is not developed in tried-and-tested sentimental ways.
The ambiguity of the film’s ending is, for me, very affecting – and the overpowering musical score binds this nightmarish piece of film together well.
I understand that Jonkajtys works in visual effects, and has worked on blockbusters like Sin City (2005) and the brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). It is his work as a director which interests me most, though. A quick search of Youtube turned up some more short films: the 8 minute Arka (2007), an animated film, came as a complete surprise to me, although it plays with some of the same themes as The 3rd Letter does – with a male protagonist, similarly shut out from the world around him. The ending of the film was a clever sleight of hand – and again, deeply sad.
Oh, and don’t even think about trying to assuage that loneliness, either, as the earlier film Mantis (2002) demonstrates:
Jonkajtys may be successful in other aspects of his career, but I would love to see him do more directorial work. His spin on a cold, unwelcoming world-to-come is aesthetically pleasing and engaging: by doing comparatively little, he manages to craft effective stories and characters. Would this translate as well in a feature film? That I cannot say, as not all directors can keep intact what makes their short films so good when they make that leap but, without doubt, his short films deserve to be seen more widely and not to languish in the ‘where are they now?’ category. All these films are compelling cautionary notes from a future we know already, and they’re really rather beautiful.