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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Parting (2008)

Director: Joops Fragale
Stars: Robbie Cox and Jennifer Ward

After reviewing Joops Fragale's Date Night and Simone, I couldn't resist working back to a couple of his earlier films that are available on Vimeo, Parting and Breaking Val. This one's much more minimal than his more recent films, but it's satisfying nonetheless, building neatly to a pleasing twist ending. It's entirely set at a single booth in a café, where a young couple argue about their relationship. I'd say that that's it, as the structure really is that simple, but it's only deceptively so. There's reason to the location, being where this couple first met, and reason to the dialogue that they run through. We don't discover that reason until the end, though there are a few hints dropped along the way, but this is far from being just a twist movie. The arguments have value all on their own, as the energy and focus alternates well between the two characters and both the actors do good work. So much of what they say has dual meanings, not least the title.

He's Calvin Roland, known as Cal and played by Robbie Cox in his debut on screen. He's honest and sincere, which combined with his eyes and his slight beard makes him a little reminiscent of Wil Wheaton. He's also shy and introverted and has trouble expressing himself, which is a focus here. He has dialogue in his head, great dialogue that he rarely gets to speak aloud because she has a habit of interrupting and taking over conversations, believing that she understands where he's going. She's Sara, played by Jennifer Ward, who would play the title character in Fragale's next short, Simone. Sara is very different from Simone, well adjusted and very comfortable with the world around her, one of the reasons for the frequent arguments she has with Cal, who isn't. Snippets show us how different they are, such as his difficulty in working for anyone compared to her lack of need to ever do so, being a trust fund baby. Both have material to unload.

The script by Gene Doucette is the big winner here. Even on my first time through, I knew that it was leading me somewhere, though I was never quite sure where, but it kept my interest while I puzzled it out. I did well, successfully nailing much of it but not quite everything, which helped the final scene work really well. Everything really builds up to that finalé and, running through the film again, I could see the cues that I'd missed as well as the ones I'd caught, all of which help to underline how well Doucette crafted his script. Fragale directs with a deceptively loose hand on this one, with none of the flash that he'd bring to Simone. The most obvious flaw is the lighting, a common complaint in Fragale's films. Here it often oversaturates, but it's no big deal, perhaps unintentionally serving as another script cue, given the very deliberate clothing choices. Cox's reddening face may also be either a subtle metaphor or another lighting flaw.

The actors is excellent, both of them building well as the film runs on. Cox has most screen time and he gets to both begin and end the story, so he's more of a focal point, but Ward refuses to let him dominate, fighting him for our attention as much as her character fights his to get her points across. Cal and Sara are an unlikely and problematic couple, as her wider vocabulary and better enunciation suggest, but they're a believable one, those problems not hurting the film at all but rather helping it, serving to provide depth both to us and especially to the actors who were clearly gifted with a great deal of opportunity to flesh out their characters. As they bicker back and forth towards a common understanding, we discover far more about this couple than we might ever have expected from a 22 minute short. That's a huge success. This isn't a showy or spectacular piece but it's an accomplished one worthy of repeat viewings.

Parting is available to view for free on Vimeo.

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