Stars: Deneen Melody and Michael Partipilo
In my review of As Night Falls yesterday, I mentioned that it was an early film in the career of its star, Deneen Melody, and that she'd gone on to play much better parts in much better films. Here's one of them, shot only a year later but in a completely different class. It's a deceptively loose short film from the prolific Jeremiah Kipp, who has as many pictures in process right now as I have toes, but one that fits well alongside his other directorial work. I knew Kipp as a writer, from insightful interviews he did for Shock Cinema with people like Ron Perlman, but he has a substantial body of work behind him to discover. I took a trip through his short films and discovered that 'trip' was a particularly good choice of word to use. He doesn't tend to give us stories, he asks us to find them within visuals that are often both nightmarish and beautiful at the same time. From the performance art of Drool to the 'cinematic prayer' that is The Days God Slept to the playful music video, Fate, he's both sacred and profane.
Crestfallen may well be my favourite of Kipp's short films thus far, as its apparent lack of focus hides an astounding amount of depth and I keep finding new things in each viewing. It's an impressionistic piece, apparently a very personal one for writer Russ Penning, who went through this story for real in what Kipp has believably described as 'the darkest hour of his life.' It isn't hard to believe that, given that the film takes the form of a set of disjointed memories running through the mind of a suicide, as she closes in on death. However much distance he obtained by changing the gender of the lead isn't enough to remove the palpable pain from these memories. Many are good, many not so good, but in the end they boil down to a deep and inexpressable sadness that leads to a character believing that the world would be a better place without her in it. The most brutal aspect of the film is that it's not that simple, that this character still isn't sure, even with a kitchen knife slicing into her veins.
Nobody speaks in Crestfallen, but they don't need to. That actions speak louder than words was never so true as here, as the emotion drips from the screen as surely as does the life from the protagonist's body. Deneen Melody does far more in six minutes here than she does in the whole of As Night Falls. To be brutally honest, she does more in her first thirty seconds, looking at what she sees in the mirror with a mixture of hate and dismissal, casually shedding her robe as if she'll never need it again, then moving hesitantly into the bathroom. She holds herself under the water like a baptism, yearning for rebirth, then searches for a moment and makes her change. As the blood comes, she relaxes, the job done; the camera becomes her consciousness and floats around as the memories start to flow. We see the happiest moments of her life juxtaposed with the most broken, blending together and gifting us with the meaning of this young lady's life. We don't know her name but, by the end, we know her.
This is a deep film indeed but it's clearly the result of a team effort. Kipp's direction must have played a strong part as this fits so well thematically with his other work, but this is Penning's story as well as Penning's film. The haunting camerawork is courtesy of Dominick Sivilli, who also did a stellar job in the editing room; his contributions cannot be underplayed. The superb score floats up there with the camera; it was composed by Harry Manfredini, who also scored Kipp's The Days God Slept, although he's surely still best known for Friday the 13th and its sequels. On screen, the support is solid, but we can't take our eyes off Deneen Melody, so strongly does she find her character. Apparently she had a friend who went through this story too, so was able to channel her performance. Whatever she did, it worked wonders, because she spends most of the film naked and we're too busy feeling her pain to particularly notice. This is bravura filmmaking and it deserves to be seen widely.
Crestfallen can be viewed for free at Vimeo.