Sunday 17 January 2010

Three-Fifty (2007)

Director: Maurice Chauvet
Stars: Evin Grensted, Michael Angelo Stuno and Melinda Augustina
My favourite No Festival Required screening of the year is always the selection of short films shown at the Phoenix Art Museum. Here's Selection 2010.
Three-Fifty is about a late fee of that amount at a video rental store, which is where writer/director Maurice Chauvet was one day when he got stuck behind someone arguing about paying such a paltry sum. This is how he got his revenge for the delay and it's a clever one. Originally staged as a play by Apartment A Theater Company in Venice, CA, of which he is a co-artistic director, it was then translated onto the screen with the same actors: Evin Grensted, Michael Angelo Stuno and Melinda Augustina as Customer, Clerk and Manager respectively..

What's saddest here is that the late fee that Customer is arguing about is for a DVD copy of The English Patient, which he didn't even watch. It was part of the date experience which didn't quite go how he planned, and so it almost seems appropriate that he lie about it when he returns the DVD, about the when and the how and the what, because the date was expensive enough as it was and this extra $3.50 is so easy to talk your way out of. Well that's how this story begins. It seems to be about how the computer is always right, how Clerk is anal enough to put the late fee before keeping a customer happy, how Manager has the necessary customer service skills to calm the situation down.

Then it gets interesting, in much the same way that the Rosanna Arquette/Steve Guttenberg segment of Amazon Women on the Moon called Two IDs was interesting. Manager is more than happy to waive the fee, but she'll need Customer to fill out some forms and swear on the immortal souls of his children, the ones he hasn't had yet. This computer system isn't just spot on the money about how appropriate the late fee is, it knows other things too. It knows about who he was with on the night, right down to how much tongue he got and how much he paid for dinner. It knows about the past and the future and so this short becomes something more than we expected. It's about justice. It's so well written that we leave it not quite knowing precisely how Customer got scammed, just that he did and it was well deserved. As Clerk says, 'It's a conundrum.'

It's very well done, the solid acting by all concerned bringing the script neatly to life. The retinal scans are a nice touch, the inclusion of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle even better. Given that this short has made it to over forty international film festivals, the list of which doesn't include the one I saw it at, I wonder how prominent it will become and how Vidiots video rental store in Santa Monica will benefit from a lot more happily paid late fees. Made in 2007, this remains Maurice Chauvet's only directorial work, though he's written a couple of other films too. If he was just a little closer to Hollywood, this would have been swiftly followed by a few sequels with titles like Three-Fiftyone and Three-Fiftytwo that would have made precisely no sense whatsoever. Thank the stars for independent short film.

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