Sunday 16 December 2012

Breaking Val (2007)

Directors: Joops Fragale and Michael Long
Stars: Lindy Star Taylor and Buddy Hyde

Florida based 386 Films now have a half dozen short films under their belt, with the most recent being The Guy Knows Everything, surely to be appearing at film festivals soon. I came in at film five, the excellent Date Night, then worked backwards through Simone and Parting to Breaking Val, the second of two shorts that kicked off 386 Films as a production company in 2007. While it's clear that co-founders Joops Fragale and Michael Long, who co-directed these first two shorts, have notably improved as filmmakers since that point, the vision that they've followed through the years was already in place here. Certainly there are obvious themes. The four that I've seen thus far are all dramas centered around women. I wouldn't call them feminist, but they certainly take a solid aim at traditional gender roles and it's telling that the only one with a strong male character is the one that Fragale didn't write. He's obviously drawn to strong female characters.

This time out, the strong female character is the Val of the title, but she couldn't find herself in a less strong position than the one she's in as the film opens. She's duct taped to a chair, looking up at the looming figure of her abusive husband, unable to escape a textureless tarped area that looks rather like a Dexter kill zone. She's a mess, purple from bruises and blood, but still sassy. 'Is that all you got, pussy?' she spits at her captor. She constantly puts him down. 'I have the balls,' she emphasises. It's almost like she's abusing him, but she's the one tied up and fearing for her life. He's tasked with little, merely to occupy the shadows as a silent, unsure and obviously unstable oppressor. Her voice is all we hear for a while, but eventually he speaks and we realise that he's a joke, stereotypical and clichéd, not because of bad writing but because he's not the character of substance that she is. He's just big and powerful, while she's everything else.
The film's synopsis tells us that they're Valarie and Tom, a blue collar couple in their fourth year of marriage. Clearly they're not as happy as others might imagine them to be. This latest spat is ostensibly about her sleeping with someone else, something he's been doing for years. It's only the setting for the film though, its focus is the relationship as a whole and the dynamics that led it down a dangerous path to this point. I'm not going to fault Buddy Hyde, who plays Tom, as he's given very little to do and all of it is to show that he's just a big dumb hunk of meat, not the most flattering role for an actor to play. It's Lindy Star Taylor under the spotlight, quite literally, and she dominates so effortlessly that I wondered if the few scenes where we see anyone else could have been cut to turn this into a one woman show. Maybe not, but the thought abides. As Fragale has pointed out, this isn't a 'girl tied to a chair' movie, this is a 'chair tied to a girl' movie.

Whenever Tom is in the room, she's a sassy bitch that hurls verbal abuse calculated to belittle him and diminish his control. Whenever he's gone, she demonstrates how panicked she really is, underlining her predicament, expressing her frustration and summoning the energy needed to enter another round. Eventually, of course, as the deceptively clever title suggests, someone or something has to break, and while I wasn't surprised at the outcome, I was still happy about it. The way it lingers into the end credits is especially appreciated. It's a very nice touch, and there are a few of those on offer to enhance what is really a very minimal set, with few props, lights or cast members to attract our attention. The camera moves pretty well around this confined space and the few glimpses of flashback are capably handled. This is clearly an early 386 Films piece and they've progressed since, but it's not an embarrassing resumé filler, it's a solid beginning.

Breaking Val can be viewed for free at Vimeo.

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