Saturday 6 July 2013

Shift (2012)

Directors: Kasim Aslam and Joshua M Lambeth
Stars: Kasim Aslam, Matthew Dearing and Suzanne Ziad
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Kasim Aslam, who wrote, co-directed and starred in this film, is one of the most memorable people at the Phoenix Film Festival. He has the perfect amount of charisma to turn those boring public service announcements that ask everyone to turn off their cellphones into something of an event. He adds a little something to his routine every year and, before long, people might show up to see him and then leave before the beginning of the films that he's introducing. That effervescent charisma is turned down notably for his role here as Arthur, who's coming to terms with the loss of his wife, an apparent suicide who hanged herself in her shoe closet after leaving him a note. He's mourning, of course, but he's also feeling guilty and he's very believably lost. This is one of those roles that requires the actor to exude every emotion in the book out of every pore all at once, the sort of difficult task most actors have trouble with but Nicolas Cage does routinely while buying groceries.

He does a good job here, but Matthew Dearing is better still as Darren. He's the heart and soul of this film, the hub around which it revolves and the pivot upon which it flips. There are twin halves to the story and he's in both of them. One tasks him with counselling Arthur, with whom he grew up. 'He's been my best friend since before I had a memory,' he explains to Arthur's depressed wife Andrea in the other, during which he counsels her too, before her death. Given that Darren is able to prescribe medication, he clearly isn't just a friend called upon in times of need, he's also a professional doctor. He's very focused and he doesn't blink much, as if he's absorbed by the task at hand and won't be distracted from it in any way. He seems like the sort of dedicated therapist we might want, if we want that sort of thing but, as a player in both halves of the story, he clearly has a further, darker role to play in proceedings that requires further viewings to fully appreciate.
There's a lot going on here and surely much of it is deliberate, if not all. The two halves of the film do not meet at any point, except through Darren, who thus becomes the middle ground between them. We can't help but wonder what the relationship between Arthur and Andrea was like, given that we're never given a scene containing both of them. There's a lot of suggestion here that it wasn't good, but we don't really know for sure. Our picture of that relationship is conjured up by each side speaking to the subject without the other being there and the script and editing play with that in a sort of parallel conversation that's reminiscent of comic books where the speech bubbles play out a consistent story but the images change back and forth between characters to highlight their shared experience. This film has a lot of that, but it also highlights disconnects. Arthur's perception of Andrea is skewed to be what she wants it to be. By the end, we wonder if he ever knew her at all.

There's a lot to think about once this film is over, which is one reason why it played so well as the last film in the Arizona Shorts selection at this year's Phoenix Film Festival. The set began weakly, but built well. I'd happily recommend Mission Control, Screaming in Silence and Pensil to anyone, though they share almost nothing in common except being interesting local films. The standouts for me were this and The Violation, each of which is carefully crafted, satisfies within its running time and still prompts much thought afterwards. I don't know who deserves the most praise. Clearly Aslam owns the film as much as anyone, as its writer and co-star, but he co-directed with Joshua M Lambeth, who also shot and edited the film, shining in all those roles. Dearing's superb work on screen matches the often ambient but gently leading score by Christopher Nastri. My lesson is that I haven't seen enough work by any of these people and I should remedy that fact soon. That and to figure out the title of this one.

Shift can be viewed for free on Vimeo and YouTube.

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