Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Hotel Chevalier (2007)

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This 13-minute film directed by Wes Anderson, with big-name stars Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman playing the only two speaking roles, was shot well before its feature-length sequel, The Darjeeling Limited (2007). Anderson intended for them to be released together, with the short airing before the feature film. Though many critics sang the praises of the short film while Darjeeling received lukewarm reviews, most viewers weren’t able to experience the short until it was released on the DVD for its longer counterpart. The short film was, however, screened at festivals and released on iTunes for free. Many people unfamiliar with the short film genre have seen this film, if only to catch Portman’s nude scene. Sadly, there are about a thousand more important reasons to watch this short.

PopWatch’s Gary Susman discusses how the short prologue enriches the experience of watching the feature film:

 “Chevalier” is an exquisite short story where we learn not much but exactly enough about these two characters;  plus, there are several allusions in Darjeeling to elements of “Chevalier” that you won’t catch if you haven’t already seen the short.

I couldn’t agree with his review more. The details are cloaked in mystery, but the charged relationship between these two characters is exciting and uncomfortable to watch. The viewer wants to know why Portman’s body is bruised, why Schwartzman’s running from her, escaping to a swanky Parisian hotel, and why the decision not to have sex seems to place them in an uneasy truce. The mise-en-scene (mostly items from Anderson’s own apartment) give the film an exotic, quirky look at odds with the characters’ grave solemnity. Absolutely see this film, if only to wonder, “Why?”

This article from The Hindu cites this film and several others we’ve discussed in class and begs the question why these films are still so hard to market and distribute, when critical and viewer acclaim garner most of the attention for these films (a word-of-mouth situation) and traditional movie theaters need a miracle to bring back their customers? Short films could certainly be the answer to, as this article puts it, “rejuvenate the specialness of going to the movies.” Still, I wonder if marketing short films for the mainstream would mean a loss in the artistic credibility of the medium. Would they lose their own brand of specialness? Would the “I-liked-it-first” hipster generation ensure that if everyone has access to short films, no one will want to?

Important questions.


Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 31, 2011 at 8:13 pm

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