The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis?
Papers from the First International Interdisciplinary Conference
16th IN THE PALACE International Short Film Festival
21-22 September 2019, Varna, Bulgaria

Edited by
Zelma Catalan and Tsanko Vasilev

© 2021 Zelma Catalan, Tsanko Vasilev, editors

© 2021 Zelma Catalan, translator
© 2021 St. Kliment Ohridski University Press

ISSN 2815-2964 (Print)
ISSN 2815-2972 (CD-ROM)
ISSN 2815-2980 (Online)


Tsanko Vasilev 

Selected Short Films 



The Academics
An Overview of “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis”
Conference Short Film Selection
Şirin Fulya Erensoy 

Narrative Organization and Meaning in the Short Film:
The Case of Millimeterle
Zelma Catalan and Ivanka Shisheva

Representing Trauma in the Short Film
Sean Homer 

Beginnings and Openings in Short Fiction on Page and Screen
Zelma Catalan 

The Students

Where Does the Particularity Lie? Notes on a Manifesto Proposal
Lucas Tavares 

Children-Parents Relations or the Social Circle outside the Comfort Zone:
On the films Beyond the Tide and Pigeonberry
Orieta Antova 

Women in the Short-Film Genre: A Short Discussion
Melanie Pereira 

Happiness Stolen from the Mythical-Allegorical World of Childhood:
Archetypal and Psychological Conceptions of Maturity in the Short Film
Mum’s Hairpins
Polina Pencheva 

Political and Football Contexts in Maradona’s Legs and Their Intersection
Irina Karakehayova 

Death as a Motive in Beyond the Tide, Mum’s Hairpins and Skin
Yoanna Dimova 



The present volume entitled “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis?” draws upon the papers presented at the international interdisciplinary conference held under the same name on 21-22 September 2019 in  Varna, Bulgaria, as part of the 16th IN THE PALACE International Short Film Festival. The academic focus on the short film was the outcome of many years of professional active work in this area of contemporary art and culture. A project with long gestation, in 2019 it finally came to life in order to put the beginning of a scholarly discussion on the topic. 

The context

It is important to stress at the very start that the decision to incorporate the conference into the IN THE PALACE Short Film Festival was deliberate and not a matter of mere contingency and practicality. The very idea for such a forum came as a result of many years of experience, which gave the field clearer delineations and brought forth the need for a new discourse that could focus on the short’s specificity. Had the conference materialized as an independent event, it might have lost at least some of its comprehensiveness and conceptual logic. The festival provided it with the necessary context in which the debate on the short film as a genre of its own could become functional, so that a link would be forged and sustained between academic discussion and actual practice. With its aims, intentions and professional standing, the IN THE PALACE International Short Film Festival provides an environment for precisely such a productive interchange.

The IN THE PALACE International Short Film Festival is dedicated to the short film, new media and digital arts. Originating as an international competitive forum for student production, it quickly grew into a professional event. Over the years it has grown into a renowned and recognizable platform for the expression of both young and established artists. It is the only one of its kind in Bulgaria and is among the oldest forums on the Balkans focusing on short films.

As proof of its quality, in 2017 IN THE PALACE received the status of an Academy Award/Oscar® qualifying festival. This means that each year it submits to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences its best films for consideration and appraisal for an Oscar award by the members of the respective branch of the Academy.   

What also guarantees quality in the work and activities of IN THE PALACE is its membership in the Short Film Conference – the largest worldwide network of film forums and institutions in the short film sector. Members of the Short Film Conference undertake to abide by a Code of Ethics. By following this Code, members in practice declare that they function in accordance with its conditions and observe the ethical rules established by the Conference and ensuring that the specified quality standards are observed.

Last but not least, IN THE PALACE has well developed sense of cinema that enables it to recognize high-quality short films. The festival can identify creative potential both in film products and in newcomers to the sector. It has become a tradition for new films and young talents who have made their debut at IN THE PALACE to enjoy a successful career and go on to win major awards from the most prestigious world film forums.

There is, however, another important aspect of the context in which “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis” was conceived and then realized. IN THE PALACE has never been just a film festival and has always functioned in close collaboration with other arts or, more generally, with other areas of culture and science. Also, it works successfully with a number of educational institutions. In 2017, together with Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski it founded the National Institute for Cultural Studies and Policies. This is a structure oriented towards research in the fields of culture and cultural studies: analysis and study of various aspects of existing and new cultural models, forms and structures on an international level, research of environments, cultural tendencies and trends, analysis and evaluation of local and international cultural policies, among others. 

In short, the festival’s mission combines contributing to and developing not only the contemporary film creation and industry, in particular that of the short film, but also contemporary culture and its studies.

Why the short film?

With the experience accumulated over the years from the IN THE PALACE festival, there emerged a need to talk not just about the films showcased in it but about the short film itself. As the title of the conference indicates, the short film is a concept that has not to this day found a precise conceptualization. The literature devoted to it is scanty, nor does the critical discourse highlight its specificity. Such an absence is particularly conspicuous given the interest the short film enjoys among both practitioners and viewers, as well as the importance it has accrued due to the great number of festivals worldwide and to the place it holds among the most renowned international awards, such as the Oscar. 

What can account for this discrepancy? It is a critical commonplace that narrative is at the heart of most art. Indeed, the analogy between the short story and the short film is a topic developed in a number of papers in this volume. Still, the problematic question is whether the short film holds the same status as does the short story in literary fiction – whether it is a genre “sui generis.” Moreover, it can almost equally successfully be associated with a poem, a song, or other verbal and non-verbal art forms. But if this statement can be made on an almost intuitive level, or based on the experience we acquire through our contact with art even as mere consumers of it, the short film has its specificity of form, logic and sense. It possesses a particular dynamism and exerts a strong emotive impact. Each second in it is valuable and meaningful. There is no place – and time – for extraneous plot ramifications and the detail it uses is strictly the indispensable one. Symbol is of particular importance and functions as a means of communicating meaning. The cinematic language can never be as evocative and categorical as it is in a short film. The short also carries a didactic potential, which makes it particularly well adapted to conveying values, ideas, positions, or trends in the social life of modern humanity.

Yet all of this indicates with even more acuteness the need to turn the academic spotlight on it, in an attempt to find some of its stable and defining characteristics. Inevitably, such a discussion will need to be across disciplines, so that it can throw light on its object from various angles, observe its various levels and understand it specificity. For the very name “short film” is one chosen in the past for pure convenience, in order to differentiate it in some way. Yet the name does not define it – rather, it selects just one objective characteristic that would make the whole classifiable in the discourse on and practice of film making and distributing. 

In other words, the name “short film” is functional in a pragmatic sense but does not really define its referent. This lack of concreteness and clarity has had a rather unfortunate consequence. For the short film has come to be perceived in negative terms, as somehow still belonging to the general category of cinema yet somehow “smaller”, inferior, and therefore not quite worthy of the same attention as the “large” feature film. Therefore, film and cinema studies can be forgiven if they simply ignore it. This, in spite of the fact that the chronology of the “lives” of the full feature film and the short tells the reverse story. Before the feature film there was the short film. In spite of that today the general conception among not only the audience but also those professionally involved in filmmaking and the film industry, “short” means “less” – less attention, less effort, less quality.

However, the experience of IN THE PALACE, and no doubt of other similar festivals, shows that the short film needs a fresh perspective. The growth of this festival in scope and scale, the sheer annual volume and quality of submissions, the range of participants in terms of age and expertise, the large audiences – these all seem to bracket off the assumed hierarchy and to chart a more independent space for the short film as “a genre sui generis.” Pointing in that direction is the Conference under the same title. As the question mark at its end suggests, it aims to provoke a new interest into the short’s specificities among, on the one hand, the professionals active in this cultural field, as well as its consumers and audiences, and on the other, academics and students engaged with its study.

The First International Interdisciplinary Conference “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis?”

The International Interdisciplinary Conference “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis?” took place on 21-22 September 2019 in the Festival and Congress Centre – Varna, Bulgaria. To our knowledge, there are no official forums in the world that place the short film at the centre of a discussion from the point of view of its generic features. Thus, the conference held in Varna in 2019 was a pioneer in directing serious attention to its study. As mentioned before, it answered a need that emerged out of the context of IN THE PALACE festival, and probably of any other similar events with a professional slant. Generally speaking, the conference format serves the important role of lending form and common direction to the informal discussions during the larger event. From the Q&A sessions where film makers meet with the public, the media and with film critics, to talk about their work, to the meetings of the jury members to judge the submissions and decide on the awards – these informal or more professionally oriented discussions are an integral part of the complex of activities that make up a festival of this kind.

In line with its general role as described above, for this first instalment of the conference and in order to cover the different kinds of interest and levels of engagement, the organizers invited academics who teach courses on the connection between literature and film. The conference was divided into four sessions in which the participants spoke on topics related to the short film and presented their research and analysis of a selection of works specially chosen by the organizers. Actively involved as tutors and advisers of their students prior to the conference and as speakers during the sessions were an international team of academics: Ognian Kovachev, Rita Capucho, Sean Homer, Şirin Erensoy, Zelma Catalan. They represented the American University in Bulgaria, Kadir Has University (Turkey), Sofia University (Bulgaria), Universidade da Beira Interior (Portugal), University of Aveiro (Portugal), University of Coimbra (Portugal). Their presentations highlighted certain important aspects of the short film but also drew the necessary attention to the various levels on which it can be discussed. The students presenting their research included Ana Castro, Ezgi Topçu, Irina Karakehayova, Lucas Tavares, Melanie Pereira, Nathan Bernacki, Orieta Antova, Polina Pencheva и Yoanna Dimova. They came from a number of European universities and were at different levels of their study – undergraduate, MA and PhD. The discussions were moderated by Ivanka Shisheva – an independent scholar of film and film adaptation theory.

The students’ involvement was a unique aspect of the conference. Their contributions came as the result of original research conducted under the guidance of their mentors. The organizers had informed students and mentors of this structured form of participation well in advance, as well of the format of the conference sessions where they would be expected to present and defend their chosen approach and argue their thesis. The field of investigation was deliberately left open, so that the students and their advisors could be free to choose their own point of entry into the short film as subject matter and build their argumentation. 

A problem that had to be solved at an early stage of the organization was that of coherence. While the participants were given a free choice as to how to approach the topic, the empirical material they would be working on needed to be delimited in order to anchor the discussions at a point accessible to everyone present. For this purpose, the organizers selected a representative sample comprising 7 short films (information below this Introduction). All of them were new international productions that had reached the Official selection made by the selection committee out of all submissions to the festival and were therefore exemplary in terms of quality. More important for their choice as subject of analysis was that in its own way, each of these titles was indicative of some typical feature or features of the short film in its contemporary form.

What also gave “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis?” a different slant to a traditional academic conference was another element of its format. Specially invited to the sessions were not only theoreticians but also practitioners. They included the various kinds of professionals and jury members attending the festival but most importantly, some of the authors of the short films comprising the selected corpus. The filmmakers thus received not just a welcome feedback from a different kind of audience but also a wide variety of responses that expanded the range of ideas and the horizon of interpretations of both artistic production and of its scholarly reception. The result of the discussions within and beyond the conference room was the formation of a fecund environment for imaginative expansion of ideas and creative impulses. For the filmmakers, it offered an invaluable opportunity to regard their own work from new angles and to enrich the experience they could gather by participating in festivals and other forums where their output is being evaluated.

The International Interdisciplinary Conference “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis?” was conceived as a forum that could place a new focus on the short and start a structured, in-depth debate on it as a genre of its own. No doubt there is pressing need for further discussions based on serious investigation and analysis, some whose directions were charted by the 2019 Conference. The decision to involve students proved to be a successful one, as it involved a generation which can find in the short film a fruitful field for intellectual pursuit and aesthetic enjoyment. The IN THE PALACE International Short Film Festival in each of its future installments will continue not only to offer the venue but also to function as the most appropriate environment for bringing together students and academics, authors and producers, critics and audiences in the desire to solidify the research area in constant interchange with those working in the field.

Tsanko Vasilev
IN THE PALACE International Short Film Festival

Film Selection

(in alphabetical order)

Beyond the Tide

Germany, 2018, 15`00``, directed by Ingo Monitor and Jan Mocka

Synopsis: When her long forgotten mother is washed up ashore

mysteriously, claiming her loving dad was about to die, a bright little girl decides to investigate a dark, tragic mystery.

Film director`s background: Jan Mocka (b. 1989) studied Film Production at Film University Babelsberg. He produced numerous films, including Average (66th Berlinale 2016). Ingo Monitor (b. 1980) studied Acting at New York Film Academy in L.A. and Directing at Academy of Media Arts in Cologne. His short film Eni was awarded at 56th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen and other. Since 2015, they both collaborate under their label Mocka Monitor.

Maradona’s Legs

Germany/Palestina, 2018, 23`28``, directed by Firas Khoury

Synopsis: During the 1990 World Cup, two young Palestinian boys are looking for “Maradona’s legs”; the last missing sticker that they need in order to complete their world cup album and win a free Atari.

Film director`s background: Born in Israel, Firas Khoury is an award-winning Palestinian screen writer and director. He graduated from the University of Tel Aviv with a BFA in Film. Alongside his directorial activity, Khoury is committed to disseminating Palestinian films and training young people. He is a founding member of Group “Falastinema”, which develops film workshops and presents screenings throughout Palestine. He is currently teaching Cinematic Language at ESAC Tunis.



Switzerland, 2016, 15`45``, directed by Pascal Reinmann

Synopsis: Measuring their power and proving themselves is part of the boys’ everyday life. Even for the 13-year-old gentle- natured Yannik. Until his best friend’s upcoming sexual curiosity suddenly puts him in a threatening situation. Where is the line between game and reality and what happens if that line is crossed?

Film director`s background: After the obligatory school time (Pascal Reinman b. 1989) completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter and in 2009 he fi nished the technical baccalaureate. In 2012 he started his studies in Film at the Zurich University of the Arts, specialization Camera. Besides his studies, Pascal works as a freelancing cameraman and in 2013 he cofounded the Nordhang Film GmbH. In 2018 he fi nished his MA in Cinematography at the Zurich University of the Arts. Millimeterle is his thesis film.


Mum’s Hairpins

Ukraine, 2019, 19`41``, director by Tatiana Fedorovskaya

Synopsis: Jewish shtetl, Ukraine, 1941. A box with mother’s hairpins – the only thing left from his family – is Yasha’s last chance to escape German invaders and rescue his new friend, a

wounded goat kid.

Film director`s background: In 2016 she graduated from the Higher Courses for Scriptwriters and Film Directors, Moscow. In 2018 the original debut full-length script White Whale got the First Prize for Best International Screenplay at 36th Flickers IFF in Providence, RI, BERLINALE TALENTS 2019.



Hungary, 2018, 19`04``, directed by Pici Pápai

Synopsis: The hero of Pigeonberry is a young boy, who attributes his mother’s severe illness and his own distress to the wrongdoing of dark, mysterious forces. He is convinced, that this threat can only be overcome by his occult intervention and the implementation of white magic witchcraft.

Film director`s background: Pici Pápai is a Hungarian director who has made several award winning short films. As a film director she finds the most inexhaustible and exciting theme is human relationships. She finds it exhilarating how beneath the apparent chaos of overheated emotional bonds, one often finds rational concepts that nullify even the purest of human relationships.



United States, 2018, 22`55``, directed by Guy Nattiv

Synopsis: A small supermarket in a blue-collar town, a black man smiles at a 10-year-old white boy across the checkout aisle. This innocuous moment sends two gangs into a ruthless war that ends with a shocking backlash.

Film director`s background: Guy Nattiv is an acclaimed fi lmmaker from Israel. His fi rst American feature film, also entitled Skinstars Jamie Bell and Vera Farmiga and premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI Critic’s Prize. Before coming to the US, Nattiv directed several acclaimed features in Israel. His fi rst fi lm, Strangers was in competition at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals in 2008.



Spain, 2018, 15`00``, directed by: Marta Bayarri

Synopsis: Marga is trapped in a routine life working in a slaughterhouse. Then, one day, a cow looks straight at her.

Marta Bayarri is an actress, writer and director based in Barcelona, Spain. She got her start as a director with the short Unanit (2014) and followed it up with Fugit (2016), which was released to wide acclaim, achieving the Candidacy for the Goya Awards 2018. Vaca (2018) is her latest fi lm was selected at film festivals around the world, and received awards including an HBO nomination for best Ibero-American short film.


We wish to express our gratitude to the National Institute for Cultural Studies and Policies for its support of the whole project. Special thanks also to Yana Docheva, Ivanka Shisheva and Liliya Kucheva for their untiring work and enthusiasm at every stage in the preparation and organization of the International Interdisciplinary Conference “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis?”


graduated from Sofia University with a 
Master’s degree in Slavic Philology (Czech) and a Bachelor’s degree in English Philology. Her research experience includes work on film adaptation. Her professional activities involve film and literary translation. With that background, she has developed a special interest in the short film and devoted her efforts and ideas to the conceptualization and launching of the inaugural edition of “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis” conference. At present, she is also engaged in producing a short film documentary series.

IRINA KARAKEHAYOVA holds a B.A. degree in Stage and Costume Design and a M.A. in Painting from New Bulgarian University, Sofia. She is the author and illustrator of the books “The Tribe of Mothers“ (Sofia: Colibri, 2009, 2019), “The Food of the Tribe“ (2010), “Household Ecology“ (2011), “Simply a City“ (2013) from the book series “Tribes“ (published by and of “Alphabet for Children and Adults” (Sofia: Colibri, 2019). She was a Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Slavic Philology at Sofia University and has completed her thesis entitled “The Interaction between Text and Drawing in the Contemporary English Language Graphic Novel.”

LUCAS TAVARES graduated in Film and Audiovisual from Escola Superior Artística do Porto and obtained his postgraduate degree in Film and Visual Culture from FLUP, Porto, Portugal. He has directed six short-films, among which two fiction narratives and four documentaries, all of which experiment with the dissociation of sound and image. His academic interest lies in documentary and experimental cinema. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Film at Universidade da Beira Interior, Portugal.

MELANIE PEREIRA holds a degree in Cinema and Audiovisual from the Superior Artistic School of Porto. She has trained in Documentary Cinema at the Institute of Cultural Production and Image, Porto, and is currently doing her master’s degree in Cinema at the Universidade da Beira Interior. She is the director of To My Parents, a short documentary film about her parents’ process of migration from Portugal to Luxembourg, which premiered internationally and won the Walla Collective Special Jury Award at the festival Doc’Lisboa in 2018. In 2019, she completed a docu-fi ction short fi lm The Death of Gaia, a film exploring wild fires in Proença-a-Nova, Portugal, as well as an experimental film on feminism, Femme, based on Laura Mulvey’s feminist fi lm theory and her fi lm Riddles of the Sphynx. Her most recent documentary, The Gardens of Barrocalfocuses on four women of the interior of Portugal and an abandoned village built during the dictatorship in the 50’s, and will premiere at Porto/Post/Doc 2019.

A feminist activist, Melanie Pereira is the author of several essays on fi lm and feminism, and is currently working with XX Element Project – Associação Cultural, an association focused on the diffusion of women in the film industry in Portugal, and consequently, she participates in several of its projects, such as Porto Femme – International Women’s Film Festival, while working with other activist projects in Porto.

ORIETA ANTOVA is a Bulgarian journalist, theater and film critic. She obtained her fi rst Master’s degree in Bulgarian Philology at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” and later specialized in Theatre Studies at the National Academy for Film and Theatre Arts. She obtained a second Master’s Degree in Literature, Cinema and Visual Culture at the Faculty of SlavicStudies at Sofi a University. Her extensive publishing activity includes literature, theater and movie reviews for Bulgarian periodicals and online media platforms.

POLINA PENCHEVA completed the Master’s program in Literature, Cinema and Visual Culture at Sofi a University and graduated with a Master’s thesis on the short fi lm. At present Polina Pencheva is a video web editor for Nova Broadcasting Group as a member of a specially created team called 7Talents. Her work generally involves the distribution of video content (web series, web reality shows, vlogs, and other video production created for the Internet). She is the editor of Vbox7, which is the largest Bulgarian video online platform for video content, and she also supports several of the Company’s social media pages (Instagram, Facebook). Before taking her current job, she worked as an editor at the Institute of Art Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. She wants to see a short film based on her screenplay one day.

ŞIRIN ERENSOY is a film scholar based in Istanbul. She completed her Ph.D. on the New French Extremity at Bahçeşehir University in 2017. She lectures on Film History, Documentary Filmmaking, Film Genres and Television Cultures at Kadir Has and Bilgi Universities. Şirin works as a freelance producer, advisor and translator for international productions. She has directed several short fi lms and documentaries. She is also the editor and anchor of the weekly news programme This Week in Turkey, broadcast on Medyascope TV.

SEAN HOMER is Professor of Film and Literature at the American University in Bulgaria. He is the author of Fredric Jameson: Marxism, Hermeneutics, Postmodernism (Polity Press, 1998), Jacques Lacan (Routledge, 2005) and Slavoj Žižek and Radical Politics (Routledge, 2016). He is co-editor (with Douglas Kellner) of Fredric Jameson: A Critical Reader (Palgrave, 2004) and (with Ruth Parkin-Gounelas and Yannis Stavrakakis) of Objects: Material, Psychic, Aesthetic, a special issue of Gramma: Journal of Theory and Criticism, vol. 14 (2006). His recent publications have been on Balkan cinema and he has completed a book on history and cultural trauma in contemporary Balkan cinema.

YOANNA DIMOVA is currently a senior at the American University in Bulgaria, double majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications and Theatre and Film. She grew up in Varna, Bulgaria, and became interested in film and film production at the beginning of her high school years. She participated in three amateur short fi lms both as an actor and cinematographer. At the age of 17, she joined a theatre group called “The Golden Key”, so that after high school she could study acting besides her first major – Journalism. At the American University in Bulgaria she has directed and performed main roles in several theatre plays. At present she is directing a short fi lm based on her original script.

ZELMA CATALAN teaches at the Department of English and American Studies, Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria, where she is Associate Professor (Emeritus) of English Literature and Stylistics. She has taught courses on Literature, Translation, Stylistics, and Popular Fiction on Page and Screen. She has published extensively on literature, style and discourse in literary and non-literary texts and on fi lm adaptation. Dr. Zelma Catalan has lectured in the Universities of Lille, France, Bamberg, Germany, Roehampton, UK. She has presented papers at a number of national and international conferences and has contributed to published volumes. She was a visiting lecturer at the University of Leeds, UK, and a visiting professor at SUNY, Albany.




Şirin Fulya Erensoy

Independent Scholar

Abstract: This paper includes my impressions regarding the selection for this year’s “The Short Film: A Genre Sui Generis” Conference, organized during the 16th In The Palace International Short Film Festival. These impressions will be divided in terms of stories and themes employed; characters relations and conflicts; and technical/structural elements that fortify and allow the message to come across.

Key words: short film, themes, stories, character, structure, technique

When looking at the selection overall, it can clearly be seen that interpersonal family relationships are prominent and serve as the central element along whose line the stories unfold. 

Thus, Low Tide (dir. Ian Hunt Duff y, 2018) centers on a fishing trip taken by a father and his son Jack; Beyond the Tide (dir. Ingo Monitor and Jan Mocka, 2018) visualizes a father-daughter relationship, haunted by the reality of loss; a young boy in Pigeonberry (dir. Pici Pápai, 2018) fi nds ways to deal with his mother’s severe illness; Skin (dir. Guy Nattiv, 2018) is a story about the consequences of racial violence on young generations; while Mum’s Hairpins (dir. Tatyana Fedorovskaya, 2019) deals with a traumatic loss and a fi ght for survival.

In each of these films, family relations are set up as the crux of their conflictual base, though in some of them this conflict is more pronounced compared to the others. At the same time, the films employ differing technical, stylistic and structural strategies for configuring the problems in the characters’ interactions.

While the stories in the majority of the films are so much about these personal relations and family ties, some of them also seek to address a reality more oriented to the socio-political problematic. Thus, the backdrop of Mum’s Hairpins is the Second World War; Maradona’s Legs (Firas Khoury, 2019) is set in

Palestine, where the ongoing conflict is introduced in parallel to the journey of the two young boys; and fi nally the Oscar-winning Skin deals with racist violence in America.

I would first like to take a look at these larger concerns within the context of Maradona’s Legs. About Maradona’s Legsdirector Firas Khoury states the following: “It is safe to say that according to our fi lm history, we are summed up as the ‘occupied people’, as if we have no other stories beyond this notion. Despite my strong faith in cinema as a tool of resistance, and its ability to express and deliver impactful messages on the masses, I see the importance in continuing the narration of our personal stories, which serves as the best proof of the continuation of our existence as a nation.” However, he further explains: “… despite being a personal story, Maradona’s Legs cannot be isolated from Palestine’s political reality; the society portrayed is one that encourages other nations, one who raises other nations’ flags who are competing in the World Cup; it is a society that has no country and is prohibited from raising its own national flag.” And indeed, the socio-political context is successfully woven into the search of the two young boys, mainly through radio broadcast interruptions that occasionally pop up during the boys’ journey. There are also the maimed bodies of the children living in the village: one of the main characters has a broken arm, and it is a girl with a broken leg that helps the two boys on their search for the missing sticker.

The socio-political perspective is also projected through the relationship between Brazil and Palestine. Brazil is a country that recognizes Palestine, but its indirect presence also helps place the whole story on the plane of allegory. This is not accidental: as Frederic Jameson has stated in his “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” “all third-world texts are necessarily … allegorical,” they are “national allegories.” Jameson further points to the function played by their narrative form: “Stories coming out of the third world are always allegories of the nation: the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society. In a national allegory, the personal is the national” (69). The director of Maradona’s Legs therefore invites the audience to reflect on the possibilities of what could happen when people have faith in and passion for the Palestinian cause. They keep up the struggle even though some fi ghts can be lost. The choice of the sticker collection rather than the Atari shows that for the two young boys the collection represents resistance and symbolically suggests the power of faith.

The story of Maradona’s Legs follows the familiar tri-partite pattern: the central confl ict is set up at the beginning of the film, it escalates to a climax in the middle, and comes to its resolution at the end. Yet, while the confl ict is set at the very start and is well-divided among the triangle of action, dialogue and event, with each of these given equal weight, there is no steady increase of tension, as the audience is not given high expectations. The character motivations are clear, and the story sets out its premise, which it eventually fulfi ls with a surprise ending that symbolically functions as a way to keep hope alive.

Another film which probes deeply into current issues plaguing the United States is Skin. The director of the film Guy Nattiv has stated that “[t]his fi lm is about education – about teaching kids a better way” (qtd. in Bloomer, “Green Book’s Best Picture”) and not pass on such values as racism and revenge. 

Skin opens with an episode including a father, a mother, and their young son in preparation for a day’s outing and some shooting practice with friends. The boy, it turns out, is already an expert marksman. There is much hilarity in this initial part, so at first the film seems to treat these ordinary and more or less stereotypical hillbillies sympathetically. This impression is broken with the encounter with a black man at the supermarket which is followed by a brutal scene of beating. Skin, it then becomes clear, is a powerful story of how difficult to contain race-based violence among white Americans is and how it can explode at the slightest imagined provocation. Yet, when all the local black people themselves embark on their own racial revenge, the story blurs all the complexities of racism. What it suggests is that hate is color blind and that racism is a self-perpetuating culture that survives when passed from one generation to the next.

According to Richard Raskin, “the best short fi lms generally make it clear from the start whose story they are telling – a quality that might be called character-focus. Once viewers know whose story it is, they can begin to feel at home within the fiction and have a way of measuring what is most important within the film. At the same time, it is generally character-interaction that provides the vitality needed to capture and hold the viewer’s interest in the film.” Furthermore, Raskin argues, rather than presenting fundamental transformations within a character, the short film depends on “character moments”: these are “fleeting pivotal events that in some way change the main character’s situation or attitude, though the character himself/herself remains essentially the same” (30).

An interesting aspect about the fi lms in terms of their choice of characters is that many of them center around child protagonists. Skin, Maradona’s Legs, Low Tide, Mum’s Hairpins, Pigeonberryand Beyond the Tide (while not recounted through the child’s perspective, the child within the story holds the centre of importance) all use the experience of their child protagonists in order to move the action forward and relay the events to the audience.

Indeed, all the films except Vaca (Marta Bayarri, 2018) center on the family, the interpersonal and the domestic. Nonetheless Vaca, while not about the family perse, is still about communication and connection with other (beings). Thus, while the first half of the fi lm is dialogue-free, portraying the routine life of an isolated, lonely woman, in parallel with that of a lonely and silent bus driver, there is an awakening in the second half which leads these two characters to open up to each other. The lonely repetitive life of the characters is given focus when that routine is actually interrupted, such as when a passenger is late to take the bus, unnerving the bus driver. Nonetheless, the awakening of the female character is solely relayed through a monologue, leading to an expository manner of revealing motivation, as opposed to using other techniques available to the visual art of filmmaking.

In a short fiction fi lm, allowing the camera to stay for a time on an actor’s face at key moments is a useful means for allowing the viewer to probe the interior world of the character. Longer shots on the actor’s face at signifi cant moments of change in that world can help to deepen the viewer’s relation to the character and to the film as a whole. These wordless close shots are best carried out not with exaggerated facial expressions on the actor’s part, but with a neutral image – what David Mamet in his famous book On Directing Film aptly calls “an uninfl ectedshot” (73) whose context enables the viewer to work out what must be going on inside the character. One such moment comes at the end of Skin, where the shot lingers on Troy after he has shot his father from the back. While Troy is clearly terrified, he also feels somewhat proud to have put his ‘skills’ to use in order to save his mother.

Furthermore, the film in general dwells on the children in the thick of the violence, for a lesson about how racism is learned, suggesting that violence triggered by racist hate is actually a cycle perpetrated from many directions and passed down to children on both sides. The shift of point of view from Troy to Lonnie emphasizes that both sides are aff ected, equating white supremacy with racially-motivated gang violence. There is something not quite right with this equation, which I am sure deserves further discussion.

Richard Raskin points to the important role inanimate objects can play in the storytelling in short films. These physical objects must be carefully selected to carry a weight of meaning and so to connect with the characters’ inner experience. “The characters’ touching or even caressing of meaningful objects or portions of the décor,” he states, “can enable the viewer to work out what the characters must be feeling or thinking” (31). No doubt, Mum’s Hairpins and Maradona’s Legs are the films that come to mind in this context. While I have already mentioned the symbolic level on which Maradona’s Legs functions, I would also like to address Mum’s Hairpins in terms of the symbolic meaning of the hairpin, as the whole story is told via this symbol, a creative reflex for a short film.

The hairpin links the three main sections of the film and so it functions as a symbol of perseverance and survival, as a savior in and of itself, and as the memory of a tradition that will be passed on in spite of tragedy. Yet while focusing on the symbol, the film falls short when it comes to the emotional motivation behind the child’s instinct to survive. The backstory is indeed laid out in all its tragedy but the child protagonist remains one-dimensional. His emotional journey is not portrayed, except perhaps for a nightmarish dream sequence, where images come to him as he tries to make sense of the tragic experiences he has recently gone through.

In terms of narrative structure, there are examples of both classical narrative structure and more experimental examples, playing with temporal fl ow, cause and effect and abstract visual style in order to convey a more subjective experience from within their narratives.

Maradona’s Legs, Skin, Pigeonberry and Vaca could be said to be structured closest to the classical narrative structure in the sense that these fi lms move forward by virtue of their characters’ actions and motivations. The link between cause and effect is in plain evidence, fulfilling the expectations of audiences borne out of the classical narrative style. In terms of temporal linearity, Mum’s Hairpins, Beyond the Tide, Low Tide bring forth sequences which breach the fl ow based on a logical sequence adhering to linear time.

In Beyond the Tide, the non-linear structure, which is for most of the film set on the shores of a man’s mind, fortifies the father’s coming to terms with the loss of his daughter. Here objects, as in Mum’s Hairpins, tie the structural segments of the films to one another, while also giving clues to the audience regarding the un-real setting and sense of the situation unravelling, all adding up to culminate in the final big reveal.

The dream/nightmare sequence in Mum’s Hairpins is the only emotional connect the audience gets with the boy protagonist; while his demeanor is calm and calculated, this dream/nightmare sequence provides insight into the inner turmoil he is going through. It demonstrates the human side of what is simply, after all, a young boy dealing with tragic events. 

As for Low Tide, it is undoubtedly the fi lm which pushes on the boundaries of generic experimentation the most. Already awarded as a horror short, the film upholds the tension at a very steady pace throughout its 14 minutes. This is initiated from the outset when father and son are contrasted during the brief scene when each orders the dog Sadie to go back home. Yet, this tension leads to nowhere. While the film’s premise prefigures it as a coming-of-age story with a terrifying rite of passage for the young boy, it diverges from this path.

Yet again, this is a fi lm that also uses objects symbolically to reflect the inner worlds of the characters: a knife for the archetypal father as a strong and fearless man, and a life jacket for the shy son lacking in confidence. Furthermore, these symbols are not present only to fulfi ll a symbolic function; they are also charged with a purpose and a function within the unfolding events. But still, we never understand if the father is actually ill-intentioned or trying to make his son into a strong man. In that sense, the film remains an interesting generic experiment.

In terms of the usage of sound in short fi lm, it provides an opportunity to make the action as interesting to the ear as to the eye by making sound an integral part of the action itself rather than merely an auditory backdrop for the action.

In Vaca, sound and music participate actively in the narration. The characters’ lives are isolated from each other as well as from other beings. Speech only comes in when they connect. So, everything that surrounds them tells us is richly evocative. Director Marta Bayarri points out this fact in her Director’s Statement, adding that, especially at the beginning, the real sound of the different spaces, such as the slaughterhouse or inside the bus, has a lot of presence and elicits essential sensations to immerse us in the universe of the story. Thus, the fi rst instance of speech comes in the form of a monologue at the 6:30 mark; this is a moment of revelation, of awakening for the fi lm’s female protagonist. While it could be argued that relaying the big reveal only through speech is somewhat an easy and expository method, it makes sense in the universe presented to us, where sound has been used to contrast the inner state of the characters.

In Low Tide, the score makes a perfect fit with the precariousness of the situation and Jack’s insecure fate at his father’s side. The smooth movement of the fi shing boat is accompanied by optimistic-sounding music implying the beginning of an adventure and the enactment of an age-old ritual involving father and son. Suddenly, the music recedes and blends with the sounds of the sea as the characters are left alone against the background of the dark water and a cloud-streaked sky. This creates a sense of foreboding that grows as the figure of the father’s figure takes on an increasingly sinister look, further emphasized by the creepiness of a changed underscore. In conclusion, the short fi lms, while delving into similar thematic worlds, offer a variety in terms of audio-visual exploration, leading to an aesthetically and structurally rich selection of films. Through storytelling possibilities which go beyond the classical narrative structure of the feature film, and which permit for strong characterization, the short films are short in time, yet are strong in eliciting a range of emotional responses from their spectators.


Bayarri, Marta. Director’s Statement. Vaca Pressbook. (accessed 15 September 2019).

Bloomer, Jeff rey. “Green Book’s Best Picture win wasn’t the most embarrassing Oscar victory. This was.” Slate Magazine, 25 February 2019. (accessed15 September 2019).

Jameson, Frederic. “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism.” Social Text, No 15, 1986, 65-88. Khoury, Firas. 2019. Director’s Statement. Lights On. (accessed 15 September 2019).

Mamet, David. On Directing Film. New York: Viking, 1991. Raskin, Richard. “On Short Film Storytelling.” Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, Vol. 4, No 1, 2014, 29-34.


Zelma Catalan
Sofia University

Ivanka Shisheva
Independent Scholar

Abstract: This paper examines the story content and the narrative organization of Pascal Reinmann’s short film Millimeterle. By applying the analytical models off ered by Tzvetan Todorov and David Bordwell, it looks into the way the plot, or syuzhet and the fabula are successfully structured to enable the production and reconstruction of meanings and to examine indepth a problematic extremely relevant in today’s world. The study finds that in the short film cinematography is an equally powerful source of meanings enriching those elicited by the fabula. The paper also raises questions about some established notions about the short film.
Key Words: short film, compression, narration, fabula, syzhjet,
equilibrium/disequilibrium, Bordwell, Todorov, gaps, cinematography

As has been recognized, the short fi lm has received little critical and theoretical attention. Most often, it is seen as belonging to a non-commercial domain reserved for students’ first completed attempt in the film genre, for artistic experimentation, and at the same time for using the medium to express social
engagement. This additionally accelerates the shorts’ retirement, which is sometimes so fast that criticism is hardly able to rely on an audience sufficiently knowledgeable about the films which form the object of investigation. Nevertheless, there are several points on which there is general agreement as regards the short fiction film. Its narrative covers an episode in the life of characters who are caught in progress but their overall development remains outside its boundaries. It compresses events that would normally require the time available only to a feature film. The short can stress forcefully on details and respectively on a problem but would rarely ‘have time’ to make an extensive comment on the issues and topics raised or mentioned. 

All of this poses a fundamental question about the nature of such key points as compression and the levels on which the viewer comprehends the story as one of progress of which only a portion is snatched. The theoretical frame of reference which can address the former of these issues is that of narrative, while the latter can be covered by an investigation of the choice of subject matter and of the particular way cinematography is used in any specifi c case. In what follows, we will apply these to a short fi ction film, Millimeterle, which has received a number of awards in competitions and festivals, including a special mention at the 15th IN THE PALACE International Short Film Festival 2018 in Balchik, Bulgaria. Millimeterle off ers an excellent example of how narrative structure, in particular the models off ered by Tzvetan Todorov and David Bordwell, as well as original cinematographic choices can result in a serious, in-depth rendering of a problematic that covers a period of human life of a much longer duration than that taken by the events in the film and which has a much wider relevance in today’s world.

Millimeterle is the graduation project of Pascal Reinmann with which he won an MA in cinematography at Zurich University of Arts. The story depicts the experience of a group of five 13-year-old boys indulging in a series of games at a swimming pool after closing time. They manage to evade the notice of the staff and to secure the place all to themselves by hiding in the lockers until everyone has left and the lights have been turned off . The ease with which they do so, knowing when and where to hide, suggests this is not the first time they have done this. Earlier, while the place is occupied by adults swimming or exercising in the water, the boys are obviously bored, just hanging around. But once left on their own, they begin to invent various ways to enjoy themselves. Two of them, Oli and Yannik, have from the very beginning been engaging in rough play, as would be typical of close friends that age. Now this becomes a pattern in their interaction that takes various forms. Gradually what seemed like mere teasing becomes more and more serious and even violent to the point when Oli tries to rape Yannik and only the arrival of the rest of the group prevents this happening. But when just at that moment the last of them, Remie, arrives, Yannik pushes him on the floor and starts vehemently trampling and crushing the boy’s already broken arm which is in a plaster cast. And as Remie yells in pain, Yannik keeps looking straight into Oli’s eyes who returns his gaze without flinching.

The theme that runs through the film is that of the growth of adolescent sexuality and the possibility of its conjoining with violence in cases when that type of sexuality is queer. The director’s original and truly successful decision is to organize the deployment of this theme through a series of games the boys play in and out of the water. Each game represents a stage in the relationship between Oli and Yannik and the whole series provides the backbone of the film’s plot. The interaction between the two central figures changes in kind, involves conflict and grows in intensity until the climactic scene of Yannik’s barely avoided rape. The series of games also provides a rhythm to the rise in the tension but its eff ect is due to the dramatic structure of the individual stages. Each of them ends in a seeming resolution to the conflict that constitutes it but it also contains the incentive for the next one. In other words, both on the microand the macro-level the plot of Millimeterle matches exactly what Tzvetan Todorov in his Poetics of Prose describes as the “ideal” narrative. Such a narrative starts, he says,

with a stable situation which is disturbed by some power
or force. There results a state of disequilibrium; by the
action of a force directed in the opposite direction, the
equilibrium is re-established; the second equilibrium is
similar to the first, but the two are never the same. (111)

So what are the two forces that create the alternating pattern of equilibrium and disequilibrium in Millimeterle? The first one is that of friendship and male bonding between boys on the verge of adolescence. However, the initial impression of equilibrium among them, expressed as their shared state of boredom and longing for excitement, is undermined by the fact that the group in the film is not homogeneous either in outer appearance or in maturity, in particular sexual maturity. Remie is the smallest in stature, chubby, with a wobbly gait and is wholly submissive to the power of the bigger boys. His hand is broken and although he has wrapped the plaster cast in plastic, he is obviously unable
to join the rest swimming or playing in the water. Oli and Yannik have already grown in size, are equally tall but are still contrasted. Visually, this is in terms of their hair and eyes – Yannik is blond and blue-eyed and Oli has dark hair and eyes. More importantly, Oli is much more advanced in the process of
sexual maturation – he is the only one in the group whose voice has broken and his verbal contributions are invariably about sex. The rest of the boys instinctively look up to him as their leader. By contrast, Yannik’s movements and overall behaviour radiate innocence and goodwill. The first game, which involves the two of them only, thus turns into a confl ict caused by the difference in the type and degree of their sexual maturation. 

The beginning shows no signal of this: as if to relieve their boredom, Oli and Yannik jump into the water and begin what looks like innocent rough play. Then Yannik suddenly decides
to change the game into one of dick-grab, causing Oli to be sexually stimulated. This instinctive, involuntary reaction takes him by surprise and makes him confused. As if driven by an inner force to resolve this state, he spontaneously takes a line of action which amounts to bullying and verbal abuse, calling Yannik “faggot” and throwing a ball into the other boy’s face. Thus, in retrospect, even the initial equilibrium already shows a sign of disturbance caused by precisely the force of sexuality. In the initial scene before they have plunged into the water, Oli keeps gently bumping his knee against Yannik’s back, which the viewer can with a hindsight interpret as an invitation to a different kind of interaction. So, what at that opening stage of the interaction is perceived both by Yannik and the viewer in the context of equilibrium, quickly becomes evident to be other than an instinctive, innocent gesture.

In the next stage, Oli proposes a game of hiding. The boys scamper off to the lockers where to Yannik’s consternation, Oli locks him in and takes away the key. Oli, however, doesn’trelent and leaves Yannik shouting with fear and helplessness. Once all the staff have left and the boys come out of their hiding places, Oli does unlock Yannik but only after some more teasing which almost infuriates his friend and more rough and tumble follows. Yet again, when the two boys join everyone else at the pool, the situation seems to return to normal, though in the water Oli makes a bolder grab at Yannik’s genitals. This produces a new disequilibrium which seems to be resolved as the boys decide to play the game of Millimeterle. As the director of the film explains, it involves jumping from the trampoline and aiming to fall as close as possible to the one who has jumped first. Undoubtedly, the game is physically dangerous
and requires much daring on the part of the participants. Still, it is precisely the central element of danger which makes Millimeterle so attractively competitive to boys that age – except to Remie with his broken arm. His vulnerability in fact provides an additional sort of excitement to the other boys. For before the start of Millimeterle, the boys decide on who is to jump and when by playing the game of rock, paper, scissors. In this game the others don’t hesitate to tease and taunt Remie. When his turn to jump arrives, he is obviously afraid both to do it but also to disobey the others with their bullying. It is then again that Oli’s most powerful form of bullying creates disequilibrium in the interaction between him and Yannik. Oli almost pushes Remie down from the 10-meter-high trampoline, while Yannik defends his smaller, injured friend by standing between them. Oli then pushes Yannik down into the pool and it is only by sheer chance that Yannik isn’t seriously hurt. Another seeming equilibrium follows as Yannik is dragged out by the other two boys and recovers. Yet the balance is in no time broken as Oli begins to play with an exercising noodle and caress Yannik in a way that is even more obviously sexually stimulating. Oli’s disruptive action so enrages Yannik that he starts a fight. Nevertheless, another equilibrium then comes, a chasing game of cops and robbers in which everyone joins but where Oli discovers that Yannik has locked himself into one of the changing rooms and is preparing to leave. Oli again initiates a reconciliation, Yannik concedes to it and even responds to Oli’s sex talk – yet another equilibrium – but with an obvious appearance of shyness and discomfort. Having set his friend at ease, Oli now undertakes his most daring and violent move. He hugs Yannik who is now unable to release himself from the stronger boy’s grasp. Oli then attempts to rape him and almost succeeds, in
spite of Yannik’s equally violent eff orts to break free. But when interrupted by two of the other boys, Oli immediately speaks, blaming Yannik for sexually assaulting him and accuses him of being homosexual, “like his father taught him.” This is the final disequilibrium which, unlike all others, cannot be resolved
only between the two. Infuriated by his powerlessness and the futility of any eff ort to vindicate himself, Yannik turns his rage on the most innocent of the boys, Remie, using him as Oli’s proxy to retaliate with an equal measure of cruelty. A final and very different equilibrium has been established, one which this
time is propelled by a force deriving from the two boys’ equality in violence and cruelty. 

In the course of the series of games, then, the natural, biological force of adolescent sexuality combines with the social shame of homosexuality to instigate a series of disequilibriums that ends with the surprising change in one of the protagonists. Unlike Oli, Yannik to that moment has shown no indications of a tendency towards abuse and violence, nor are there any hints of hidden or repressed urges towards cruelty. His character change questions one of the generally accepted assumptions about the short fiction film, namely, that its limited duration does not allow any character development – a point forcefully argued, for instance, by Cynthia Felando (52 passim) and Richard Raskin (30). This assumption rests on the premise that such development needs time and the presentation of more numerous and complex life events, whether in fiction or in real life. But through the carefully chosen and true-to-life individuation of the three main characters – Oli, Yannik and Remie – Pascal Reinmann shows that such change can arrive suddenly and surprisingly, that it comes through knowledge and that a course of games can bring that knowledge, as is the case here with Yannik. Nor is the intensity of the interaction between the boys forced. It is typical of boys that age, as is the power of games to produce sudden moments of deep awareness of the other participants’ psychological make-up. And that possibility of life-changing revelation is not limited to a certain age group, so that the film produces a meaning of a more general and fundamental nature and scope.

Another received notion Millimeterle questions through its plot structure is that of compression as the quality characterizing the short film. It is not, however, clear from existing scholarship and criticism on what level it is eff ected and by what means. Cynthia Felando devotes much attention to this aspect but equates it with a limited number of scenarios. Compression, for her, is achieved by “cutting out” in order to produce “the focus on a ‘single thing,’ including a carefully delimited slice-of-life moment” (51). Yet, it could be argued that “cutting out” is indispensable for any narrative: no action or object can be presented in its fullness and the human power of inferencing is what “fi lls in” the missing details. In his Narration in the Fiction Film David Bordwell discusses this obligatory feature of any fictional narration; the presence of gaps or “informational holes”, he points out following Meir Sternberg, is a means of cuing the readers in their process of comprehension of the fabula. They may be practically indispensable to the fabula but their choice in terms of content and positioning is determined chiefl y by the syuzhet. Bordwell uses the concepts of fabula and syuzhet in the sense given to them by the Russian Formalists: fabula is the story as constructed by the reader or viewer from the information supplied by the narrative and using common cognitive principles; the syuzhet, or plot, is a diff erent system which exists only as an abstraction composed out of the elements of the fabula according to specific principles and intentions (49-50). The fabula, Bordwell points out, almost never contains the information in full, so the “filling in” of the missing bits enables the viewer to manoeuvre between the fabula and syuzhet. Bordwell classifi es gaps as temporary or permanent, as spatial, temporal or logical, as diffuse or focused, and as fl aunted or supressed (54-55). Each of these will occur as a matter of contingency/economy but also as a deliberate means of producing curiosity, suspense and surprise – Meir Sternberg’s famous defining elements of narrative. 

What is surprising about Millimeterle is how few gaps there are in its story. The fabula time corresponds almost exactly to the real time the action would require. Some temporal gaps appear only in the pauses between the games, so that instead of the 15 minutes of running time, the whole might amount to twice that, which is still a very brief period. Spatial gaps are also quite sparse and their limited number is accounted for by the enclosed location. The reason why the viewer is spared the short periods between the diff erent games and the change of locations is that nothing crucial to the story happens during these pauses. Indeed, these gaps are not only flaunted, in Bordwell’s terminology (55), that is, obvious yet insignifi cant, but they could equally well be called ellipses as they are so easily reconstructible from the context. They could also be seen as what Bordwell calls diff use gaps (55), as there are no clues as to what exactly the boys are doing or saying while they move between various places. More importantly, during the playtime, with each stage of the game series and the evolving conflict between Oli and Yannik, there are practically no such ellipses. On the contrary, the camera follows every move, look or expression of the three main characters – Oli, Yannik, and Remie, so every moment is captured with no real pauses and “informational holes” in between.

As to logical ellipses (Bordwell 55), Millimeterle is also surprisingly economical. After the underwater shot following Yannik’s dick grab, all cause-and-eff ect relations between events become clear and the question “why” hardly arises – and when it does, answers can easily and immediately be provided by the cultural context. The composition of the group and its psychology, with Oli as the obvious leader and Remie as the scapegoat, leaves little, if any room for wonder why Remie is so scared standing on the diving board, why Yannik’s reactions progress from annoyance to panic and ultimately to disgust and
violence, or why the other two boys never object to or even comment on Oli’s words and actions, which they tacitly obey. It would seem, then, that in this fi lm fabula and syuzhet overlap or coincide, making higher-level hypotheses redundant and all meanings brought to the surface.

This might, of course, characterize Millimeterle as superfi cial and would hardy explain the powerful eff ect the film makes on the viewer. What accounts for its deep impact is the way its cinematography adds new layers of meaning to those conveyed by the story content and the narrative structure and organization. In the fi rst place, the camera work creates a number of contrasts which give support to but also extend the meaning deduced by the fabula/syuzhet in surprising directions. It has a rhythm of its own, one which only partly coincides with the alternation between equilibrium and disequilibrium within the story organization. Most importantly, the cinematography introduces a new focus of attention and so widens the horizon of interpretation of the whole work. 

For the most part, the film is shot in the semi-darkness of the swimming pool and the locker section after working hours, the only light coming from the security lamps and other electrical appliances gleaming white and red. Yet the opening scene is of the brightly lit pool fi lled with adults swimming or exercising in and out of the water. The boys seem and feel out of place in that environment, safe and at the same time bored, yearning for excitement in games they can play unwatched. When the most daring of these games, Millimeterle, is mentioned by one of them, it is with the certainty that for it they need to have the pool to themselves, with no adults to stop them. Once Oli has proposed and the others have agreed to hide and return after the place has closed, the lighting, however, changes. By the time they have hidden in the lockers and a cleaner is hosing the corridor, the locker section is in semi-darkness while only the brightly lit corridor is shown in clear perspective as a place different, distant and hostile. After the cleaner has left, there is a brief shot of the whole place, locker section and corridor, now in complete darkness. This is followed by a view of the completely empty swimming pool with its diving board all covered in luminescent bluish light. The shot announces what is perhaps the longest temporal gap in the film and in it, the darkness, the emptiness and the silence anticipate something sinister, which is to be dramatized in the subsequent scenes. With each new game, the boys but also the audience fi nd themselves in the familiar environment of the pool and the locker section, but under diff erent lighting, angle, perspective, and type of shot. The culmination of the game sequence, Oli’s attempted rape, takes place in the dark enclosed space in front of the pool bathrooms. In such an environment where physical space and darkness unite, human behaviour is challenged at once mentally and physically. Physical space become psychical space in which the dark undercurrents of the human soul rise to the surface and begin to command all human interaction, with unpredictable results.

But it is the cinematography of the pool scenes that makes them remarkable for their meaningfulness. They are dominated by shots of bodies but mostly of parts of these bodies. The film opens with an extreme close-up of the fl abby mature chest portion of an adult male taken under water. This is contrasted in the next above-water shots in extreme close-up of fingers touching plastic and then a boy’s freckled face – Remie’s, as we are to learn shortly, and a medium shot of a part of a boy’s head, the chin covered in acne, and one of his arms gliding up and down his other armpit – Yannik’s. Throughout, the camera follows every move, look or expression of the three main characters – Oli, Yannik, and Remie – but hardly ever shows them standing up full length. Even the underwater shots take in only parts of their bodies – torsos, legs, arms and heads. The few full shots in the fi lm function as intermezzos between episodes high in tension, as the brief moments of equilibrium which is to be disrupted in the next game. Oli himself is introduced via a long low angle shot below the waist, as he rhythmically bumps his knees against Yannik’s back. We see his face only later when he begins to speak, making a sex-loaded joke, and it is then that we hear his already broken voice. This is almost immediately followed by a scene fi lled with close-ups and middle close-ups in the underwater scuffl e between him and Yannik, Yannik believing he is playing dick-grab and Oli fi nding himself shocked by his own bodily response. The abrupt alternation of brief long and or extreme long shots with prolonged sequences of medium and extreme close-ups contributes to the build-up of suspense and is consistent in every scene until the end. Long shots raise the tension and activate our voyeuristic curiosity of what is about to happen, all the more that the camera work often shows figures blurred and rather as silhouettes. In combination with the sparse dialogue and the presiding silence, the oppositions between gloomy settings, dull colours and luminescent light, as well as between above and under-water shots, imply and further emphasize the effect of the dark layer of the games that the boys are playing.

As a consistently applied aesthetic choice, the dominance of shots showing only parts of the boys’ semi-naked bodies in close-up and extreme close-up does something more. It thematises the human body itself, making it as much a focus of attention as are the boys’ personalities. It might even be suggested
that the human body in its outer appearance, its mechanics and its physiology becomes a protagonist in its own right. It is a focus of attention to the boys themselves as they watch and touch each other. Its dominance modifi es and adds to the meaning of the setting and the conflict. The physical space becomes not only psychical space but also body space, in and outside the swimming pool. The freedom the boys have been longing for when they decide to stay alone after the adults have gone turns out to be commanded by the needs of their bodies. It is under the illusion that such freedom allows him the right to sexual abuse that Oli gives way to his newly discovered homoerotic urges, while the presence of the others forces him to embrace and announce the publicly approved rejection of homosexual orientation and to transfer it on his victim. Yannik, in turn, has so far shown and believed to be Oli’s equal in bodily strength and agility but to his panic and disgust, he has failed to free himself from Oli’s grasp and overall domination. His psychotic reaction at the end of the fi lm also involves assault on a body, this time on that of Remie. Both Oli and Yannik act out of shame for their failure to harmonize bodily and social behaviour in a way that will meet with public approval.

In conclusion, our analysis of Millimeterle shows that in spite of its short length of only 15 minutes, it manages to explore a problematic of topical but deep reaching relevance today: the power of human sexuality to control and direct human interaction from a very early age. The fi lm, however, uses the
narrative structure of a series of games played by adolescent boys also to investigate the important social issue of sexual and physical abuse performed by individuals who have themselves been victims of it in their childhood. The film can be regarded as a kind of psychodrama that places the participants in situations of unequal relationships and clearly defi ned roles and requires of them to examine decisions made under the pressure of biological and social factors. The director’s choice of setting, participants and narrative content successfully combines with a cinematography that adds new depth and seriousness to the issues that emerge in the course of the action. It stimulates the audience to ask questions about their own awareness of and attitudes to the problematic of the role played by sexuality in the process of physical and social maturation. It also brings into focus the relations between body and mind and body and space, which is a much discussed topic by scholarship in the humanities today.
But our analysis also has a relevance to the more immediate topic of short fi lm study and practice. We have found fruitful an interdisciplinary approach that brings together the study of narrative in general and its application to the short film. Our choice of theoretical frame of reference has been dictated by
the lack of sufficient clarity of concepts and principles that the sparse theory on the short fi lm has assumed rather uncritically. We have found that in the short fi lm the medium, that is, cinematography, is also and pointedly the message, perhaps even more so than in the feature fi lm. In the short fi lm subject matter, narrative organization, choice of setting and protagonists and camera work need to be examined in relation to one another. This, we believe, can prove fruitful for scholarly investigation, practical criticism and educational programs in the field.


Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Felando, Cynthia. Discovering Short Films. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Raskin, Richard. “On Short Film Storytelling.” Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, Vol. 4, No 1, 2014, 29-34

Reinmann, Pascal. Millimeterle.

Sternberg, Meir. Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction.

Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Todorov, Tzvetan. Introduction to Poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981.


Sean Homer

American University in Bulgaria

Abstract: The seven films selected for our discussion are very different in character and form. This paper suggests that there is an underlying theme that runs through this selection. That theme is the attempt to represent and come to terms with trauma in one form or another. What we see portrayed in these films is different levels or types of trauma. There is the trauma of personal loss in Beyond the Tide and Pigeonberry. We see the collective trauma of the Holocaust in Mum’s Hairpins and of the occupation of Palestine in Maradona’s Legs. With Skin and Low Tide we see portrayed what is called the traumatogenic event, that is to say, the initial event that may initiate a trauma, while Vaca stages an encounter with the Real through an intricate economy of the voice and gaze. Drawing upon the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, the paper argues that trauma is fundamentally an encounter with the unrepresentable Real.


The seven films selected for our discussion are very different in character and form. They range from the Second World War historical narrative of Mum’s Hairpins (Dir. Tatiana Fedorovskaya), through the psychological mystery of Beyond


the Tide (Dir. Ingo Monitor and Jan Mocka), to the brash and aggressive realism of contemporary racism in North America with Skin (Dir. Guy Nattiv). A number of these films are coming of age narratives including Mum’s Hairpins and Skin but also Pigeonberry (Dir. Pici Pápai), Maradona’s Legs (Dir. Firas Khoury) and Low Tide (Dir. Ian Hunt Duff y). Vaca’s (Dir. Marta Bayarri) more unusual narrative of a young woman rescuing a cow from a slaughterhouse might seem to be something


of an outlier in relation to the other films mentioned but I want to suggest that there is an underlying theme that runs through this selection. That theme is the attempt to represent and come to terms with trauma in one form or another.


It seems to me that each of these films addresses trauma in a psychoanalytic sense of the term, that is to say, the experience of an overwhelming shock or event that is more than the subject can bear. Such an overwhelming shock cannot be assimilated into a subject’s everyday experience and, therefore, it is, in psychoanalytic parlance, repressed. For Sigmund Freud the paradigmatic trauma is the child’s first encounter with adult sexuality. For Freud’s disciple Jacques Lacan, trauma is fundamentally an encounter with what he calls the Real. The Real is not to be confused with reality, the Real is essentially that which is beyond the socio-symbolic world we call reality and is fundamentally unrepresentable. It is mainly trauma in this second, Lacanian, sense that I wish to discuss these films.


What we see portrayed in these films is different levels or types of trauma. There is the trauma of personal loss, the loss of a child in Beyond the Tide and the potential loss of a parent in Pigeonberry. We also have the collective trauma of the holocaust in Mum’s Hairpins and of the occupation of Palestine in Maradona’s Legs. With the remaining three films we see rather different dimensions of trauma though. Skin and Low Tide both portray what is called the traumatogenic event, that is to say, the initial event that is so overpowering for the child that it will necessarily be repressed and may return later in a symptomatic form, I will come back to this point below. For Skin this is the direct confrontation with death and the slaying of the father, and for Low Tide the child is brutally forced to face his demons in order to become “a man”. While Vaca does not at first appear to address the issues of either personal or collective trauma, I will suggest that it stages an encounter with the Real through an intricate economy of the voice and gaze.


The prevalence of trauma in these films suggests that we are living in an increasingly traumatized world, or, perhaps, a world in which, as Ruth Leys has shown, the meaning of trauma is diffuse and evermore fuzzy. The utilization of trauma theory in film studies (see Kaplan, Elsaesser), however, is rather paradoxical insofar as the prevailing academic understanding of trauma is that it is fundamentally unrepresentable. According to Cathy Caruth’s infl uential account of trauma, the trauma is not the event itself, but rather “in the way that its very unassimilated nature – the way it was precisely not known in the first instance – returns to haunt the survivor later on” (4). Trauma is a wound or breach in the mind’s experience of time; a violent traumatic event is experienced too early, too soon, to be fully known or understood and therefore is unavailable to consciousness. The traumatic event can only be known as it imposes itself, repeatedly, through the nightmares and repetitive actions of the survivor. Caruth is drawing here on Freud’s late theory of trauma in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) which suggests that we experience the traumatic event after a certain time lag and through its repetition; trauma therefore has the character of a certain belatedness. Trauma is not the result of an encounter with death but rather the experience of having survived such an encounter. As we see in Beyond the Tide, for example, the question raised by trauma theory is not so much “Why did my daughter have to die?” but Why did I survive?” Or, as in the case of Mum’s Hairpins, how can one survive after such an horrific experience as the Holocaust?


It is this central paradox of trauma theory in film – how can something that is fundamentally unrepresentable be represented in a visual medium – that interests me, as well as the temporal aspect of trauma, what I have called above trauma’s belatedness. More specifically in relation to film analysis, an analysis of trauma in film looks not for what is present in a film but for what is absent, for what is suggested through the film form but is absent from the narrative. This is often referred to, as does Elsaesser, for instance, as an absent presence (15). In Lacanian terms, this is the traumatic encounter with the Real that I see more or less successfully embodied in the selected films. For example, in Beyond the Tide we have a fragmented narrative structure that circulates around an absent event, the death of the child, as the father repetitively tries to come to terms with this event, to assimilate it into his everyday life. The child’s death is never shown directly and initially the film suggests that it is the mother who is dead. At first, Beyond the Tide appears to be rendered in a conventional realist mode and it is only gradually that we realize that at least one of the three main characters must be dead. What we are watching is not material reality but psychical reality, the reality of the unconscious: as the film reveals in its final shot, the whole story is taking place in the father’s mind.


Mum’s Hairpins and Pigeonberry similarly play with time and space, although in very diff erent ways. The otherness of the traumatic event in Mum’s Hairpins is signified through the quality of the image. Young Yasha’s story is told in an almost monochromatic black and white image; however, it is not entirely black and white. A soft, warm, colour pallet contrasts with the silvery quality of the majority of the image, emphasizing Yasha’s family’s ginger hair, a single yellow brown leaf on the tree and the yellow-orange of the fire of the destroyed house. There is one other prominent colour, the red of the cherry juice that drips from the mouths of Yasha and his sister as an ominous sign of what is to come. This childhood narrative is distinguished from a dream sequence and the final scene of the film through the use of colour and the clarity of the image. The dream sequence is in full colour, but these colours tend to be brighter and from the other end of the spectrum, from the warm colours we saw in the child’s narrative. These natural images of cherries, flowers and leaves floating in the air are also shot in soft focus. The final scene of the film is again in full vivid colour but this time in sharp focus. As the camera pulls back from a close-up of Yasha’s hands pitting cherries we see that he is now an old man, a grandfather, and the long table is lined with children also pitting cherries, the deep red of the bowls of cherries dominating this final scene. A boy with ginger hair leans forward and looks directly at the camera – it is the young Yasha from the main narrative. This film is a flashback, a memory of a traumatic event, its distinct temporal and spatial components distinguished by the quality of the image.


Pigeonberry also presents a potentially traumatic loss of a parent for a child using the negotiation of spatial boundaries and the intertwining of material and psychical reality. Samu is aware that his mother is ill and connects this illness with the native America creation myths he hears in kindergarten. Believing that the ancient remedies of the Shamans will cure his mother, Suma concocts a foul smelling remedy out of dead pigeon and wild herbs. When the father intervenes and stops Samu giving his mother the drink, a confl ict ensues. Metonymically, the conflict between parent and child is, at the same time, a conflict between rationality and fantasy. Locked within his own grief,


Samu’s father tries to connect with his son on his own terms, as he does, for example, when he invites him to help with his work. Just as Samu is always physically shut out of the room as his father comforts his wife, he must also accept a medicalized account of his mother’s illness that forecloses on his own emotional investment. Samu’s second attempt to drive the bad spirits from his mother is more successful, not in the sense of curing the mother, but in the sense of giving the child some way of assimilating the experience to his own understanding. Samu sneaks out into the outlying wood late one night waiting to challenge and defeat the spirits that will come at midnight. His father discovers him but this time he does not force him back into the house but rather enters his fantasy space. It is the father who must make the shift from the material rational world to the immaterial fantasy world of spirits in order for Samu to come to terms with his mother’s dying. Fantasy, or psychic reality, as Žižek explains in his exploration of Lacanian theory through Hollywood cinema, is not an escape from reality but is the support of reality.


Mum’s Hairpins, as noted above, utilizes a fl ashback structure in order to represent the trauma of the Holocaust. This is a standard way for film to convey traumatic experience, as well as one way in which clinicians understand trauma as working, as Ruth Leys explains. It also raises a fundamental problem with conceptualizing trauma: is the trauma the event itself or is it the memory of the event that is traumatic? Even in Freud’s early account of the seduction theory in Studies on Hysteria, the belief that trauma was caused by actual sexual and physical abuse, there were always two events involved. There is the initial traumatogenic event and then a second event which triggers the memory and affect (emotion) of the initial trauma. Paradoxically, the overwhelming or shocking event itself is not the trauma: it is the later retrospective activation of the event that constitutes the trauma. This is important because Freud’s own clinical experience came to show that simply retrieving and verbalizing the memory of a particularly shocking event was not enough to cure it. Moreover, a particularly horrific event may not in itself cause a later trauma. This, from my perspective, is the weakness of Mum’s Hairpins insofar as it depicts the brutal assault upon Yasha’s mother and sister by the Nazis but as we will see in Low Tide, a particularly brutal and shocking event may not in itself be traumatic.


Similarly to Beyond the TidePigeonberry and SkinLow Tide explores the relationship between a child and his father. As with the prevalence of trauma in these films, this suggests that fatherhood is a peculiarly problematic or unstable category today. Like Skin, the issue that this film addresses is what parents pass on to their children and how they pass on certain values and behaviours. Structurally that fi lm falls into two halves on either side of the traumatogenic event, that is, the father forcing his son to confront his demons in the sea as he, his father, and his father’s father did before him. This is a rite of passage that all boys must go through to become a man, or, more precisely, a particular kind of man. In the fi rst part of the film the boy is timid and afraid, his voice lacks the power and authority to command his own dog, he is too squeamish to gut the fish he catches and, finally, he is too frightened to go into the water. Unlike Mum’s HairpinsLow Tide does not directly present the viewer with what the boy sees under the boat. The content of a traumatogenic event is individual, what is traumatic for one person may not be for another, but its structure is the same for all. Above all, trauma is governed by the logic of repetition and Low Tide foregrounds the traumatic nature of the event through the repetition of scenes from the first half of the film in the second – specifically, the boy walking with his dog on the beach and the scene with the father gutting fish. The repetition of each scene is significantly different from its initial iteration and within this difference lies the potential for an event to become a trauma or not.


The night after his forced confrontation with the demons below the sea the boy walks out onto the beach and meets his dog, he shouts at the dog, “Home!”, as he did in the opening scene but this time his voice segues into that of the father, he has become the kind of man his father is. This is emphasized the following morning when the boy and his father gut fish and this time he has no qualms about it. The mother, silent, isolated and excluded from this masculine world, meanwhile searches for the family dog that lies dead upon the beach, killed by the boy. Childhood has been brought to a brutal end as the boy has internalized the toxic masculinity of his father. In terms of trauma theory, however, the boy has assimilated a particularly shocking experience into his identity and so has become a man. In this sense, we can see that the event itself is not the trauma: it is only the unassimilated nature of the event that becomes traumatic. This is why we cannot say yet which way things will go with Skin. There, the slaying of the father by the son is, metaphorically, the foundation of Freud’s oedipal conception of desire but we do not know how this particular event will play out.

The use of voice in Low Tide provides my final link to trauma and the Real in Maradona’s Legs and Vaca. Lacanian psychoanalysis argues that a subject’s desire is founded through the desire of the Other and the subject’s attempt to locate their place in the desire of the Other. In brief, in this process of trying to fathom the unfathomable, the desire of the Other, the child is forced to recognize its status as a subject of lack and more importantly that the Other is also lacking. This overlapping or conjunction of two lacks Lacan calls separation and it is at this point that the subject can differentiate his or her own desire from the desire of the Other, that he or she becomes a desiring subject. For the purposes of our discussion, what is important to keep in mind is that, while the desire of the Other always exceeds or escapes the subject, there nevertheless remains something that the subject can retain and this something sustains him or her as a desiring subject. This something is what Lacan called the objet petit a, the object cause of desire. Freud postulated that for the infant there are a series of part-objects, that is to say, parts of the body or objects expelled from the body to which our desire is directed. Freud identified three such objects: the breast, faeces and the phallus. Lacan added to this list of part-objects two further objects, the gaze and the voice. The voice is both tied to language and the body but it is part of neither, it exists in the gap between Other (language) and subject (body); it is through the excess of the demand of the Other that the subject’s own desire is born. Both Maradona’s Legs and Vaca, I will contend, play with the voice and the gaze and through these part-objects stage an encounter with the Real and an articulation of the desire of the subject.


Maradona’s Legs follows two young brothers as they attempt to complete their sticker album for the 1990 World Cup. The film’s narrative is ostensibly about the young brothers’ passion for football and, as mentioned above, this is a coming of age narrative. It is a narrative of defeat and loss and how one endures in such conditions, but it is set against the trauma of occupation and displacement. The opening shot is a rear view (dorsal) shot of the boys walking side by side down the street, draped in the Brazilian flag. Indeed, as the camera follows the boys in their search for their final sticker, that of Maradona’s legs, we notice that flags are very prominent in this fi lm, that is to say, the flags of the countries playing in the World Cup. What is conspicuous by its absence is the Palestinian flag as it is banned within the occupied territories. The Palestinian state is the absent centre around which this fi lm revolves. As the boys search for the last sticker, they listen to the football commentary on a small portable radio*. 

The commentary is continually interrupted by the voice of the Palestinian resistance, the voice of the uprising or first Intifada, that exhorts the Palestinian people to rise up. This disembodied voice, what Michel Chion called the acousmatic voice, is the voice as objet petit a, the object cause of desire. The objet petit a is a particularly paradoxical object insofar as it is a lost object that the subject desires and searches for, but it is not something the subject has ever possessed. As the object cause of desire, it is something that the subject retrospectively posits as being lost and what is required to make them whole again. In this sense, like the retrospective cause of trauma mentioned above, the objet a is a fragment or remainder of the Real. Thus, the acousmatic voice of the uprising, the First Intifada, is an intrusion of the Real into the socio-symbolic reality of Palestinian everyday life. It is a constant reminder that their homeland was not lost but taken through violence. The Real of the nation state is the founding violence and ethnic cleansing, what Dominick La Capra in Writing History, Writing Trauma calls the founding trauma that no nation can accept or assimilate into its national mythology.

Let me conclude with a discussion of Vaca, a film that would seem furthest away from my focus on trauma and the Real. I want to argue, to the contrary, that Vaca is the most psychoanalytic of the films under consideration. Vaca is a very simple narrative of a woman who works in a slaughterhouse and is numb to the world around her. Yet one day a cow looks directly at her and her routine is disrupted as she liberates the cow from certain death. The fi lm is very clearly an encounter with the Real of death but in what sense is it about trauma? The initial establishing shot of the fi lm is of an empty bus stop – we will see this same shot repeated later in the film but this later shot will be from the point of view of the bus driver. The opening shot is in the third person and I want to suggest establishes not just the scene but also the fi rst instance in an “economy of the gaze.” In Vaca the function of the look or gaze is given prominence over speech and dialogue. There is no dialogue in the first half of the film: indeed, the bus driver does not speak throughout the film in which there is just a continuous exchange of glances or looks. For example, the bus driver does not speak to the passengers but looks at them in the rear-view mirror: he anticipates their needs through looking rather than asking. On the one hand, this emphasizes the tedious and routine nature of the everyday lives of the passengers, and on the other, it suggests a level of intimacy that exceeds language. The characters in the film communicate through the gaze and not through speech. We might also note here, following our discussion of part-objects above, that the central protagonist in the film, Marga, is shown in the opening scenes only as fragmented parts of the body. She is not a whole subject but a fragmented, alienated subject, a subject of lack in the Lacanian sense.

 The daily routine of the Marga’s life is suddenly and dramatically disrupted one day by the intrusion of the Real. As a cow is led into the enclosure to be stunned and it turns and looks at Marga, we see a close-up of its eye as it looks directly back at her and she recognises in this look the Real of desire, the desire to live. This is an extraordinary example of the gaze in the true Lacanian sense as the gaze of the object and not the subject. Since the publication of Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay on visual please and narrative cinema, film theory has consistently interpreted the gaze incorrectly by attributing the gaze to characters within the film diegesis or the viewer. For Lacan, by contrast, the gaze is first and foremost the gaze of the object that positions us as subjects. It is through the recognition of the Real of desire in the gaze of the cow that Marga’s desire is inaugurated, that she becomes a desiring subject.

 We might also note here that Vaca also deploys the second of Lacan’s part-objects, the voice. As with Maradona’s Legs, the low-tech transistor radio plays a prominent role in the film, providing a diegetic soundtrack. The bus driver continually listens to country and western music while, himself quite silent, he drives around his route, and if Spanish or Catalonian music comes on at any point, he switches the radio off . The presence of North American country and western music in this Catalonian landscape could simply be treated as incongruous but set against the silence of the character, it comes to signify his desire. Just as the object gaze ignites Marga’s desire to live, the object voice of the radio signifi es the driver’s desire, something that Marga recognizes and precisely that is why she seeks his help in liberating the cow**.

 This is my brief answer to my own question, can the short film adequately stage the encounter with trauma? It is, perhaps, not an adequate answer and only touches the surface of the selected films but I hope that it opens up some points for further discussion and analysis.


*It is noticeable that radio, an old pre-digital technology, is prominent in three of these films – Maradona’s Legs, Skin and Vaca
**When Marga pleads with the driver to help her take the cow into the countryside and he closes the door on her, not even the director was aware of what he would actually do. This was left open for the actor to decide in the moment (personal communication with the director.


Beyond the Tide. Dirs. Ingo Monitor and Jan Mocka. Denmark, 2018.


Low Tide. Dir. Ian Hunt Duff y. Ireland 2018.


Maradona’s Legs. Dir. Firas Khoury. Germany/Palestine, 2019.


Mum’s Hairpins. Dir. Tatiana Fedorovskaya. Ukraine-Russia-Germany, 2019.


Pigeonberry. Dir. Pici Pápai. Hungary, 2018.


Skin. Dir. Guy Nattiv, USA, 2018.


Vaca. Dir. Marta Bayarri. Spain, 2018.




Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History.


Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.


Chion, Michel. Voice in Cinema. Translated by C. Gorbman. New York:


Columbia University Press, 1999 [1982].


Elsaesser, Thomas. German Cinema – Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory


Since 1945. London: Routledge, 2014.


Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. 1920. Translated by J. Strachey.


In A. Richards (ed.), On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis,


Penguin Freud Library, vol. 11, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984, 275-338.


Freud, Sigmund, and Joseph Breuer. Studies on Hysteria. 1893-95. Translated


by J. Strachey and A. Strachey, A. Richards (ed.). Penguin Freud Library,


vol. 3, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.


Kaplan, E. Ann. Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and


Literature. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005.


Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Translated


by A. Sheridan. J. A. Miller (ed.), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994 [1964].


LaCapra, Dominick. Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.


Leys, Ruth. Trauma: A Genealogy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.


Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen, vol. 16, No.


3, Jan. 1975, 6–18. Žižek, Slavoj. Enjoy Your Symptom: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out. London: Routledge, 1992.


Zelma Catalan

Sofia University


Abstract: The paper discusses the problematic of beginnings in short fi ctional narrative forms. The paper argues that beginnings shape plots through a dialectical relation between the particular narrative and the “canonical” stories that culturally shape the narrative presentation of identity. The beginning also determines the very form of our interaction with the fictional world which it “opens” for the reader or viewer. In shorter forms that act is performed mostly by the image and its symbolic potential.

Key Words: beginnings, openings, sjužet, fabula, plot, canonicity and breach, minimal departure, image, symbol

In the last episode of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Knave is put on trial for allegedly stealing the tarts the Queen of Hearts has personally made. After several failed attempts to elicit evidence from the witnesses, the White Rabbit comes up with a newly found piece of writing, which he is ordered to 
read. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty”? he asks the King, who is also the presiding judge. “Begin at the beginning,” the King “gravely” replies, “and go on until the end: then stop” (Carroll 119). That the Rabbit is confused is understandable: he is summoned to give evidence, produce testimony, which is an institutionally shaped narrative, performed under specific constraints and aiming to present the witness’s version of events which will contribute to the production of a verdict. In the scene from Alice, however, the whole teleology is reversed and therefore the intention is cancelled: the verdict of guilty has been presumed before any evidence has been presented. Still, the King has no doubts as to what the beginning is – it is that of the text the Rabbit is holding in his hands.

As so often happens in Alice, there is a lot of serious matter hidden behind the apparent absurdity of the exchange. The White Rabbit’s question may seem unquestionably naïve, yet in spite of, or because of this obviousness, the exchange draws attention to the complex problematic of beginnings in general, and specifically with respect to fictional narrative no matter what its medium is – verbal, pictorial, or fi lmic. The problematic stems from the nature and structure of narrative itself. The King refers to the textualized sjužet, while the Rabbit wonders about the beginning of the fabula, the story he is expected to produce. Could it start with where the manuscript was found, by whom, and what its relation to the Knave and the tarts might be? Or the story in the text he is holding in his hands? But of course, it contains no recognizable story, only verses that relate to different events and actors, without any logical or chronological link, and, as he states, are not even written in the Knave’s hand. Yet it stands to the confused reason of Alice in Wonderland that the King tries retrospectively to fi nd some coherence in the nonsense that makes up the verses, a reverse logic that leads back to the guilty verdict.

This act of seeking logical coherence retrospectively is typical of reading narratives, literary theorist Meir Sternberg argues, among others (Sternberg 1978). But how far does the reader or viewer have to go? What is the beginning we go back to or start from, even in those cases when the sjužet and the fabula are arranged in an identical manner, that is, the events are arranged chronologically, with no flashbacks or flash-forwards? In his extensive study literary critic Edward Said has usefully distinguished between origins and beginnings. Origins, he claims, are transcendent, humanly incomprehensible, unfathomable. Beginnings, by contrast, are the product of the secular mind and determined by their intentionality – whose absence I have illustrated with the example from Alice. But he also cautions that “interest in beginnings is often the corollary result of not believing that any beginning can be located” (Said 5). In this paper I will grapple with that problem by introducing two theoretical frames of reference that can help produce both an analytical method and a performative toolkit for authors and filmmakers. Finally, I will relate all this to the short film using examples from the films shown at the 16th Short Film Festival in Varna, 2019.

No doubt, the concept of beginning in narrative is multiaspectual and functions on several levels (see Phelan 2008). Yet there is one single global frame that controls all analytical perspectives and it is that of the whole narrative and its sjužet, fabula and plot. It is, indeed, in this frame that Aristotle positions beginning in his Poetics: “[tragedy] is an imitation of a complete, that is, whole action that has some magnitude … and a beginning, middle and a conclusion. A beginning is that which itself does not follow something else, but after which there naturally is, or comes into being, something else (Aristotle 25). Aristotle’s definition highlights the fundamental characteristic of any beginning: it is relational but its energy is only propulsive both for author and receiver. Aristotle’s focus in his discussion of tragedy is, of course, on plot: the structure of the good play, he insists, should be such that it can produce an emotional reaction – the catharsis of pity and fear – by means of discovery (anagnorisis) and reversal of fortunes (peripeteia) (Aristotle 14). To this day, the tripartite structure he recommends has met with wide acceptance. Tzvetan Todorov, for example, isolates the triade equilibrium – disequilibrium – the old or a new equilibrium. In between the second and the third are events that either enforce or eliminate the next stage (Todorov 51). These events in fact constitute what is traditionally understood as plot. Elsewhere in the Poetics, however, Aristotle already introduces a new notion of beginning – something may have happened in the past to make that plot possible. The action, therefore – the diegesis – has a different beginning than the imitation, the mimesis. Today we would say, as I did earlier, that the fabula and the sjužet have different starting points and if we for the moment ignore their textualized form, these points, these beginnings, are not necessarily identical or compatible.

Meir Sternberg, author of an influential functionalist model of narrative, sees the choice of arrangement of events as targeting the emotions of curiosity, suspense and surprise which he posits as universals of narrative. The play of these three, according to him, constitute narrativity – a property that some texts have andothers don’t. Sternberg’s model is openly intentionalist but it still fails to answer the question where the chronological rendering of the events should start. In his extensive study of exposition he defines it as “the first part” of the fabula, and it serves to “introduce the reader into an unfamiliar world, the fictive world of the story, and by providing him with the general and specific antecedents indispensable to the understanding of what happens in it” (Expositional Modes, 14). Sternberg includes in these antecedents, among others, “the history, appearance, traits and habitual behavior of the dramatis personae” (1). Yet although such information carries great predictive and interpretive value, it still poses the problem of its delimitation by the fabula. While it is true, as is universally recognized, that beginnings and endings are related, the textual segment called beginning does imply its own antecedents which may not be textual at all but an idea, a perspective on the world. What is more, the choice of the scope and the content of the beginning often determines whether a narrative will be deemed interesting and this is not all dependent on such information – as most scholars keep reminding us, not all narratives are worth telling, even if the dramatis personae are interesting by themselves. Nor does a mere succession of events make the story interesting or constitute a plot, that is, a series of complications. Something else is necessary and it transcends the limits of personality and its individual story.

In a famous series of studies of short oral narratives of personal experience, sociolinguist William Labov drew attention to the similarity in the construction of all of them. What he found was that a narrative worth telling, a tellable narrative, as he called it, had to have a point – a goal that somehow, and retrospectively and prospectively, made impossible the question “so what?”. He broke down the sequence of events to fi nd that one of them was “the most reportable,” a turning point leading to the coda (“Some Further Steps” 405). In a sense, the model he derives seems analogous to Aristotle’s and Todorov’s in its three-stage structure. Most importantly here, discussing the beginning – the “orientation” – he found that it provided not only what is usually known as the setting of the events but also gave information on “the identities of the participants, and their initial behaviour” (402). And it is in the wider notion of “social identity”, rather than personality, that we see that beginnings are never adhoc, never produced on the spot, that they reach not only forward but also back or around.

For identity is continuous and is culturally recognizable by virtue of the narratives it evokes. Take, for example, such identities as somebody’s son, mother, father, friend, neighbour, worker, driver – all of which we immediately recognize in the short films shown here. More than that, we can identify with them because we evoke what narrative psychologist Jerome Bruner defines as “canonical narratives.” These are narratives produced by what is known as “folk psychology” and conventionalized within a given culture. They are, furthermore, normative, as they serve as a “theory of life” against which individuals set their own personal life stories, whether shaped into texts within any medium or existing in an inchoate form. But canonical narratives, according to Bruner, are not in themselves interesting, they don’t have a point, or if they do, they are the narratives centred on cultural stereotypes current within a historical period. To become interesting, they must be particularized and thus become narratives of specific, individuated identities, which involves a breach of the canonical. Breaches are dramatic turning points, not necessarily climactic, though they involve “trouble”, a disruption of the normative – or to put it in another way, they are “plotted”. They constitute a deviation from the normative but one that is still validated by culture; otherwise its central character will become “deviant”. Narrative, in Bruner’s words, “is designed to contain uncanniness, rather than to resolve it” (“Self-Making” 16).

How does the definition of a tellable narrative with a plot viewed as canonicity and breach affect our understanding of beginnings? No matter how the sjužet and the plot deal with the forward chronology of the events in the story (the fabula), the dramatis personae, the human or anthropomorphic entities must be introduced from the start with culturally recognizable identity features. Their introduction inevitably evokes a canonical narrative. Film is particularly well suited to such condensed but profuse informativeness. Take the short films featuring children – “Skin,” “Mummy’s Hairpins”, or “Pigeonberry.” Appearing in the first scenes within a cultural context, provided by the mis-en-scene and featuring parents, evokes the canonical, age-old narrative of childhood passing under the protection of parents, with the modern cultural overtones we inevitably bring to it. The breach in fi lms centered on young children, as in the majority of the short films under consideration here, happens with the loss of that parent, again culturally recognizable as caused by illness or war, the latter real or in a particularized yet familiar version, as in “Skin”. The breach in the other films with child protagonists off ers another narrative – of the resilience of children deprived of parental protection. In other words, the normativeness of the canonical narratives feeds its energy from the very beginning implicitly, as it inheres in the particular, socially and culturally recognizable identities of its actors.

But the familiarity evoked by canonical narratives extends further than their stories and on a different level. It determines the very form of our interaction with the fictional world. Philosophers have for centuries delved into the intricate relation of fiction to reality and their interest has spilled over into literary studies. In one of the most influential of them, Marie-Laure Ryan treats the problematic using the concept of possible worlds as developed in the theories of philosopher David Lewis (Possible Worlds 16-23). Her phenomenological model of reading has for its governing principle that of “minimal departure” (48-60) – that as readers, we reconstrue the fi ctional world as being as close as possible to the world as we know it, which Ryan calls the Actual World. My use of the metaphor of “opening” in the title of this paper relates just to that moment of contact with the world of a fictional narrative where the text, irrespective of its medium, removes a part of its boundary, “opens” itself for the reader or viewer, allowing her to shift her temporal, spatial and ideological position, to “immerse” herself, yet never lose sight of the familiar, the known, the canonical. But the fictional world is not unitary – in that possible-world model, it can be represented as a constellation of worlds comprising the world as constructed by the text and the private worlds of the characters, determined by their wishes, plans, etc. (Possible Worlds 109-123). The characters’ interaction is an interaction between their versions of the world and their own virtual narratives, constructed in their private worlds and embedded in the main one. That is why the beginning of any fictional narrative text shows not identities fixed once and for all but having their dynamic narrative potential as well, an unstable situatedness in the fictional world, providing tension between the stability of canonical expectations and the potential for their breach.

So what of the short forms, verbal, non-verbal or hybrid, such as film? It is common and urged by intuition, or by reading or viewing competence, to treat each structural part in comparison with the corresponding longer form – the novel or the full-length feature film. Equally common is to see the shorter forms as the product of two principles – of compression and “cutting-off ”. The shorter forms, by necessity, are deemed fit to present only “a fragment”, “a slice of life” and to compress information. In other words, a part is cut off a larger whole, leaving a minimum of characters and single-line stories which progress with a minimum of complications, so that the plot is placed into open view. Or even, as Cynthia Felando, author of one of the very few theoretical studies of the short fi lm, claims, the plot may not always or not at all be signifi cant. “Often,” she says, “the single thing in both the short story and the short film is a carefully selected fragment of time that evokes the spontaneity, ephemerality, beauty, or singularity of a passing moment—or a “slice of life”—unbound by the demands of causality” (48).

The question, however, remains as to where the cutting of that fragment should be placed. This is the same question that the White Rabbit asks: from where in the whole should “the slice of life” be taken? While there can be no defi nitive answer, as “life” itself is not a simple concept, I believe that in view of the two perspectives I have suggested here, we might need to approach beginnings, more specifi cally those in short forms of narrative fiction on page and screen, from a different angle. Literary scholar Claire Hanson has argued that the short story is organized according to a principle fundamentally different from that of the novel – it is that of the unconscious desire whose object cannot be clearly defi ned and which finds expression in the elliptical structure of dreams (23). I would not fully agree with that formulation, since the elliptical structure can be found in many novels, though less so in all but experimental full-length feature fi lms. Still, what we could derive from her psychoanalytical approach is the central role played by the image and its symbolic potential. As Valerie Shaw writes of the short story, it is “a special case of art’s capacity to make apparently straight-forward or familiar things express complexity through metaphor, symbol and implication” (11). But whereas the symbolization in the verbal medium usually has to pass through the stage of the metaphoric, in the filmic medium it can inform the beginning itself and this is especially important for its short forms. The reason is that, as Bruner himself has pointed out, the narrative account of the sudden turn, of the breach of canonicity, often marks a transition from the literal to the figurative (69). In film, it is the function of the image and the mise-en-scene to do that. The image that combines a strong effect on the senses, mostly the visual one, with a metaphoric richness of other meanings working on many perceptual or cognitive levels, is by default one that possesses an inner dynamism capable of propelling the action to the end.

Take, for example, the opening scene of Pigeonberry. There, the mother’s lush hair is not just a detail but also an element in the furnishings of the canonical narrative of growing up in the environment of young healthy motherhood, while the detachment of the strand is the turning point that diverts the ensuing narrative away from the canonical. But hair itself is also symbolic and now the strand becomes the sign for the inevitable deprivation that will govern the boy’s life from that moment on. Most of the other films presented for analysis here similarly use the symbolic meaning of hair – in Mum’s Hairpins, the family members’ red hair is given one of the very few distinct colours and so on the symbolic plane it becomes linked to the other object that stands out against the pale, dreamlike background – the ripe red cherries with the juice flowing from them like blood. Skin opens with an intimately domestic scene of the father clipping his son’s hair, an action which, when recalled retrospectively later on, takes on the significance of an initiation ritual. For, soon after that, the boy shows he is already a skilled sharpshooter – a skill that makes his Neo-Nazi father proud of him, but also one that will eventually bring on the tragic end of the event sequence. And in Vaca, the heroine Marga is introduced mostly through synecdoche, in close-ups of parts of her body but it is the repeated extreme close-ups of the back of her head, with her hair and her ponytail showing, that give special emphasis to this detail. So much so that when she and the rest of women working at the slaughterhouse don their white bonnets, it is like a turning point – they are no longer individuals, they have lost their identities and have become the same, like serially manufactured robots. Her outrageous decision to “kidnap” a cow and so make a desperate attempt to save its life is thus a bold eff ort to evade the power of the contemporary canonical narrative of anonymizing mechanized work and preserve her unique identity. And by achieving this, she can change not only herself but others too, as proven by the driver’s eventual consent to allow the animal in to his bus.

A comparison between other two of the short films offered for consideration can show not only the significance of starting with an image that has a symbolic meaning but also what has been noted of the shorter fi ctional narrative forms – their more direct relation to the mythic and fairy-tale narratives. As their titles show, Low Tide and Beyond the Tide are both set close to the sea, or, in the former case, partly within the sea itself. Both are also psychological thrillers and Low Tide can even be considered a short horror movie. As a general symbol, the sea carries many generalized, universally accepted abstract notions with a metaphysical element. The sea symbolizes freedom but also the danger of what is too vast for human comprehension, impervious to human control, a repository of the uncanny. And unlike hair, the symbol of the sea carries a high narrativity value – it offers the generative power for the construction of stories and plots. As might be expected, both films dramatize this potential, announced as early as in the opening frames where a panoramic shot shows the children frolicking with a parent by their side – and yet the human fi gures are tiny against the vastness of the water and the bare shore. Low Tide evokes the mythological narratives of metamorphosis, in which a “normal” human is magically turned into a cruel and savage beast. Beyond the Tide, for its part, plays on the familiar story of the return from the dead. Neither film, however, uses a familiar “heroic” canonical narrative of overcoming the odds set by powers beyond human knowledge or control. Still, the narrative energy of Low Tide pushes the plot and the narrative’s turning point into a direction which diverges from the possibilities offered by the initial symbolism. For it may not be the sea that transforms the child into a kind of monster but his father’s will which imposes itself, taking no heed of his son’s utter consternation. By contrast, in Beyond the Tide the father’s “return” from the dead is not only aided but possibly effected by his wife, in much the same manner as the Prince’s kiss will wake up or revive the dead heroine in fairy tales.

It is typical of the whole selection of undoubtedly high-quality short films that they do open up with images so pregnant with meanings that they bring in much more than a “fragment” – they open up a whole world. What I have therefore briefly sketched above is a way of treating beginnings not merely as points of departure but also as orientations points, as much first points as a stage in a sequence of steps that encircle identities and whole worlds. And it is those concepts – identity and world – however they may be defi ned by philosophers, sociologists, psychologists and others – that prevent the infi nite regress to an unidentifiable “beginning”, the very danger Edward Said poses as facing any author, reader or viewer. And to relate this to the general topic of this volume and the conference that preceded it: does the understanding of “beginning” and “opening” bear any relevance to the notion of genre? It is my belief that genre is, among other things, a professional practice that is governed by its own intentionalities and modalities. So with the short story and the short film – thinking about beginnings does involve a consideration of how much time and space one is expected or allowed to fill. But no less important it is to think about how and what of the world – fi ctional or real, projected through its conventionality but also by the pregnancy of word or image – one must choose as a vantage point.



Beyond the Tide. Dirs. Ingo Monitor and Jan Mocka. Denmark, 2018.

Low Tide. Dir. Ian Hunt Duff y. Ireland, 2018.

Mum’s Hairpins. Dir. Tatiana Fedorovskaya. Ukraine-Russia-Germany, 2019.

Pigeonberry. Dir. Pici Pápai. Hungary, 2018.

Skin. Dir. Guy Nattiv. USA, 2018.

Vaca. Dir. Marta Bayarri. Spain, 2018.


Aristotle. Poetics. Translated by Richard Janko. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1987.

Bruner, Jerome. “Self-Making and World-Making.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1991, 67-78.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking- Glass. London: Wordsworth, 1993 [1865].

Felando, Cynthia. Discovering Short Films. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Hanson, Claire. “‘Things out of Words’: Towards a Poetics of Short Fiction.”

Re-reading the Short Story, edited by Claire Hanson. London: Palgrave, 1989.

Labov, William. “Some Further Steps in Narrative Analysis.” Journal of Narrative and Life History, No 7, 1997, 395-415.

Phelan, James. “The Beginning of Beloved: A Rhetorical Approach.” Narrative Beginnings: Theories and Practices, edited by Brian Richardson, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008, 195-2012.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. Possible Worlds, Artifi cial Intelligence and Narrative Theory. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Shaw, Valerie. The Short Story: A Critical Introduction. London: Longman, 1983.

Said, Edward. Beginnings: Intentions and Method. New York: Basic Books, 1975.

Sternberg, Meir. Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

---. “Universals of Narrative and Their Cognitivist Fortunes I.” Poetics Today, Vol. 24, No 2, 2003, 297-395.

Todorov, Tzvetan. Introduction to Poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981.






Notes on a manifesto proposal

Lucas Tavares

Universidade da Beira Interior

Abstract: The paper off ers an analysis of and thoughts around the three-act structure of the short-film genre.

Key words: short film, feature film, three-act structure, genre

Our speech is not our own. We live inside language, consigned to operate within its system. And yet, it is through our speech that we call ourselves into being, that we articulate a sense of ourselves and test it in the world. It is a matter of maneuvering within constraints, of fi nding ways to engage in a bricolage of the pre-given, which will somehow yield the singular out of the shared and make the singular shareable. We draw not only on the stability of words, but on grammars and narrative codes to shepherd the idiosyncrasy of experience into the realm of the communicable – a prerequisite for any community.

In a work of art, what exactly allows us to diff erentiate mediums and genres? It is its language. We understand that the languages within a collage, a painting or a sculpture are different, and we can even draw conclusions on influences or inspirations in multimedia or transmedia works, through the appearances of different languages within the work of art.

Cinema has its very own language as well, a language broad and transparent enough to exist within critical writing on different cinematic genres. Still, different words such as close-up or long shot take on different meanings in different genres. In a horror film, a zoom has a completely different meaning than a zoom in a drama. If cinema allows this linguistic difference within genres, then we should be able to notice it in the very foundation of its linguistic richness: the narrative structure. We may understand, for example, that the relief work of the Trajan Column and its narrative structure have enabled a completely diff erent understanding of the Dacian wars, from, say, the paintings depicting the same historic event. Or that the narrative structure of Jonas Mekas’ films offers us a completely different look on immigration, when compared to others documentaries of the same era.

Then why, when we study the short film as a genre, don’t we look for the films that propose new forms of narrative structure, specifically outside of the three-act one which constantly invades film theaters worldwide? Why don’t we look for these short films, which maybe contain that one differential particularity thatmay be so crucial in their opposition to feature films?

The films that were selected for this conference present this exact structure when divided into acts. Below is such a division that I, with the help and the input of a few colleagues, worked out with no discussion with the filmmakers themselves.



1st act

2nd act

3rd act





Low Tide




Mum’s Hairpins








Maradona’s Legs




Beyond the Tide









The way we perceive these short films is the starting point of the problem. There is clearly a consensus among the film community that shorts are the stepping stone for feature films. This is something we can see established in cinema history books, among critics, and in the amount of short films being “adapted” into feature films. The idea that shorts are minor or insufficiently developed productions is sustained by a system that wants to maintain the status quo. Short films owe their exclusion from the “worthier” genre to books on film, and are still widely neglected by film schools and film critics, even though short films are, most likely, the best approach in learning and experimenting: their budget and work time are usually less demanding, which is an ideal setting for film students. However, there is a clear lack of references to short films within the community itself. We are submerged with lists of the “best films ever,” which consist almost exclusively of feature films: for example, the BFI 250 Best Films Ever Made only features seven short films. Additionally, film theaters show a complete lack of understanding on how to properly screen short films, or if they should screen them – in pairs, in groups of three or four, individually, or maybe before a feature-film, with cheaper tickets or not. There are a lot of different approaches to and propositions on the matter, but fi lm theaters in general choose not to screen shorts at all. Consequently, because of the lack of understanding of the short film, students, directors and others involved make short films without watching and knowing about the genre, thus perpetuating the lack of understanding of the potentiality of this specific medium.

The standardization of the narrative structure of short films is not only a problem for the medium in itself, but it also generates all kinds of obstacles for filmmakers and for the audience. In the first place, the narrative structure composed in three acts and with a fictional story has become the norm. The result is that projects defying that structure, be it by being non-narrative or simply non-fi ctional, find it much harder to obtain funding. Furthermore, film festivals dedicated to short films tend to follow the same tendency, thus preventing audiences from familiarizing themselves with different ideas and perceptions on both narrative and film. And whenever a film shows a small change in the narrative structure, this is usually enough for the festival to classify it as “experimental”, which points not only to prevalent misconceptions about the varieties of narrative structure but also and more specifically, about the experimental film genre.

 Among the most important problems brought on by this standardization are the films themselves. As stated in Melanie Pereira’s paper for this volume, “Women in the Short-Film Genre: A Short Representation,” these films lack major character development, character presence, and character representation.

These are undoubtedly deficiencies of the narrative structure itself. When we try to condense the structure of a feature film into a short film, we need to understand how feature films deal with time. A first act usually contains the introduction to the characters and the plot’s start; in a short-film it may be around 5 to 7 minutes long, while in a feature it could last for half an hour to 40 minutes. Features absorb this structure well, because the film gains a steady and comfortable rhythm. When moved to a short-film duration, the structure is not only disrupted, but the real sense of rhythm can be lost. This not only makes character development difficult but it can also be a problem when introducing space and time. How can the importance of the physical space be conveyed in a condensed three-act short film? The location becomes a mere background, an illustration, and can never have a character of its own.

The discussion around the short fi lm as a genre is clearly a necessary one, if for the sole purpose to bring to attention the importance of aesthetic relevance, and confi rm the specific identity of the short film. The proliferation of festivals dedicated to short films contributes to this discussion, by making the genre more accessible to the general public, and specifically, to award them for the kinds of films that they actually are. But we can’t unquestioningly accept that there is no alternative to the fictional three-act narrative structure, which already dominates commercial cinemas and feature fi lm-based festivals. The short film should be that which will resist it.



On the films Beyond the Tide and Pigeonberry

Orieta Antova

Sofia University, MA Program in Literature,

Cinema and Visual Culture


Abstract: Focused on the short films Beyond the Tide and Pigeonberrythe paper discusses the generic and specific characteristics of the two cinematic works. In terms of dramaturgy and imagery, they go beyond the visible, delving deep into the laboratory of the subconscious. The focus is on child-parent relationship in a situation of family crisis. The children as protagonists play a major part in defining the style of the entire film presence that adds a specific nuancing to the wealth of meaning and plasticity of the artistic synthesis. In Beyond the Tide, in the perfectly staged “clash” between father and daughter, there is blurring of boundaries between dream and reality, truth and deception, guilt and revelation. While in Pigeonberry, naturalistic realism is combined with metaphors of old-times wisdom where each soul has its own fate.

Кеу words: short film, Beyond the Tide, Pigeonberry, parents and children, family, realism, fantasy, metaphor, symbol

Both Beyond the Tide and Pigeonberry can be defi ned using a characterization made by Bulgarian film critic Vera Naydenova: this is “film-making, which is as indefi nite as poetic language, canonical and smooth like ballet, which is born before our eyes like theatre, proportionate and balanced like architecture, colourful and spectacular like the fi ne art of painting, and, finally, locked in its form like a sculpture” (108). The two films also appeal with their combination of a realistic story and fairytale fantasy, naturalistic detail and the fiction of dream, the metaphor of the visually rational ‘dance’ of light and shadows. In their dramatic-visual fashion, they go beyond the limits of the visible and the recognizable to penetrate deep into the lab of the subconscious. The real and the symbolic convey references to variations of the rational (‘metrically rhythmic figures’) and non-formal interpretations (motives, ideas, states that ‘incite the figures’), they affect the viewers’ senses and emotions and push them to reflection and empathy. The emphasis is on the relationship of the individual with the people in his/her immediate environment and, in particular, the child-parent relationship outside the comfort zone – in a cataclysm which has disrupted the monotonous and hassle-free existence in the black-andwhite world, without nuances, fueled by the illusion that everything is under control. The behavior of the characters is presented at a time of crisis in which objective action, exploring the line of delusion-knowledge-attitude-reaction-insight, recreates the subjective feeling/overcoming/of the real drama. In Beyond the Tide this is the tragic incident with the boat, in Pigeonberry – the incurable disease of the mother. In superb rhythm, with skillful editing, memorable acting, no melodrama, and a rather harsh aesthetics, both films present a motivated development of a life crisis in the whole of its confl ict and emotional intensity.

The psychologically complicated plot of Beyond the Tide is a kind of puzzle-riddle about conscience-forgiveness, and that of Pigeonberry – a parable of maturity development and parental involvement in the children’s illusion. The philosophical- metaphoric cinematic suggestions of both works (similar in genre and in aesthetic terms) are based on the specificity of life, but they are also analytical and dramatic journeys of the human soul, drawn into the orbit of borderline states and feelings. The characters are presented in development, with artistic volume and depth, off ering ‘universal beyond-time references and concentrated spiritual connotation’ (Naydenova 93). They provide reference to the archetype of the mother (related to birth, security, return, etc.), to the father (associated with the figure of the leader, authority, etc.), to the child (synonymous with innocence, salvation, future, etc.). At the same time, the archetype of ritual action – rites of sacrifice or of initiation – points to personal transformation and inner enlightenment. The children-protagonists (Emma from Beyond the Tide and Samu from Pigeonberry) have the mission to support the stylistic development for the films’ comprehensive integrity, which gives the films a specific nuance of thematic, semantic and supple richness of cinematic synthesis. And it is achieved through the precision of the free ‘leap’ from reality to fantasy or from illusion to the mundane. In this way the movement of Life, competing with Time going by, is artistically ‘projected’. Dramatism is built up through the layers of the tragedy in the domestic plot (a family storyline), or the non-standard plot (a return from the otherworldly or the ritual mysticism of the expulsion of the evil spirit), which give the perception a poetic depth by means of detailed psychological dissection (a ‘plunge’ into the human soul). This predetermines the saturation of imagery on the film canvas (the narrative is built on a visual narrative), in which the sense of a mystery, of something enigmatic, is subtle but extant, it sets the rhythm of events and leads to an unexpected ending (in Beyond the Tide this is an awareness of the reality that one will have to live with, and in Pigeonberry – the maturation and the admission of a child into the adult world, as a possible alternative to shared hope and rediscovered closeness).

According to Abel Ferrara, “art is about shared goodness ... an act of compassion, of self-awareness“(Markova 114-115). The makers of the films in question exemplify this definition through the overall cinematic construction of their films, in which a person and their destiny are subject not only to the individual will, but also to nature and the irrational magical powers of the Universe. The four elements of nature are not only fully fledged actors, but are also symbols of spiritual catharsis. They give rise to both respect and melancholy, and simultaneously attract and repel. Earth is related to the sacred, to wisdom, to the mother, who is both a protector and destroyer; water ‘illustrates’ femininity, intuition, becoming a means of purification, a temple of renewal and rest; fire refers to passion and emotion, divine providence, death and rebirth; air ‘invents’ insight, agility of the mind, the path to communion between earth and heaven. And all of them transform the picture into a kind of visual feast carrying a psychotherapeutic code. Despite the above-mentioned unifying elements, in Beyond the Tide and Pigeonberry diff erent subjective authorial voices are heard, which turns these short fi lms into independent works of art possessing their own unique style.

The team which created Beyond the Tide includes directors Jan Mocka and Ingo Monitor, director of photography Sabine Panossian, soundtrack Matija Strinisa, and the actors Katerina Heyer (Laura), Frederik Funke (Аdam) and the 11-old Keziah Bürki (Еmma). The film’s plot revolves around the universal question about the ability to move on. How to overcome a tragic loss for which you feel responsible? How to live on when you are a captive of your own guilty conscience? And what happens if your own survival depends on being able to forgive yourself by accepting the painful but real facts? Right from the initial shots (the carefree game on the beach), through the visual background in camera movement – general (the coast) and close-up (the look on the child’s face) there are hints of a pending drama. The fateful moment – the finding of the body at the water’s edge – is the link that predetermines the shocking development of the action, a direct consequence of the lurking hypothetical danger. Within an extremely tight time frame, the story grabs the viewers’ attention with the interiors and the daily routines (where the daily acts are shown in detail), with the ‘puzzling’ dialogue between the spouses, with the light effects (shadows in the child’s room), with the blurred boundaries between reality and dream, between raving and illusion, between truth and confusion, between the secret and intuition, between guilt and insight, into a perfectly presented ‘clash’ between father and daughter. The helpless ‘swaying’ of parental conscience and infant innocence are credibly and movingly recreated by the actors Frederik Funke and Keziah Bürki. Their words, gestures, looks, wordless close-ups (missing words hurt a lot more than spoken ones), movements, etc., all add depth, parabolic reference, harshness and mysticism to their acting feats which fill the screen. Katerina Heyer, though a bit episodic, fi ts in admirably with their perfect duet.

The music, the silence, the colour palette, the actors’ emotions (sympathy, anger, tears, pain, etc.) in Beyond the Tide lead the viewers along an unusual journey, where they will feel the glare of the fireplace, the whistling of the wind, the hopelessness of the schoolbag washed ashore, the power of love. It is the love through which a child will release her father from the sense of guilt, so that Life can triumph despite the grip of Death. Jan Mocka and Ingo Monitor do not impose their views, they simply direct a story with great finesse, a story that touches the hearts of the audience, but also challenges them to see beyond the tide, to rethink their personal Being.

The team which created Pigeonberry includes director Рici Papai, screenwriters Рici Papai and Marton Barany, director of photography David Lukacs, composers Adam Balaze and Mate Feldser, and the actors Leonard Bodis (Samu), Zolt Nagy (the father), Ester Banfalvi (the mother), Kovacs Lehel (the preschool teacher), and Chloe Kerestes (the girl). The main character in the film is a little boy who attributes his mother’s severe illness to his own confused notions of dark mysterious powers, to his fantasies born by the Native American legends he listens to and reads. He is convinced that he can save his mother if he uses magic spells and rituals. The screenwriters turn this storyline into a mystical tale about the karmic relationship of the child with his parents and the role of the mother and father in shaping his world. Here, too, as in Beyond the Tide, the threat of imminent family trials looms in the introductory scene (the game in the bathtub, which is a vivid visual-semantic image). As a symbol of weakness and predetermination, the strand of hair detached from the mother’s head becomes a kind of rise in the dramatic action, which will linearly follow the dynamic plot lines. These will take the characters to the open ending – an ending, in which the turbulent fairy-tale euphoria of father, son and elements of nature subdue the alarming uneasiness of the viewers who empathize with the tragedy unfolding before their eyes. “Maturation,” according to Alejandro Jodorowsky, “means putting the child in place, letting him/her live in you, yet not as a master but as your companion”(122). This is exactly what happens in Pigeonberry – a bright ray finally shines through in the drama – Samu and his father fi nd their way to each other, uniting in the face of the evil that has struck them. Each has grown wiser in his own way – the boy has overcome his fears, the adult has shed his rationalism and distance, achieving closeness to his son. In the famous words of Nelson Mandеla, “the brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear” (748). Samu’s bold action and the support he receives when he decides to help in an unconventional way, though contrary to common sense, are naive but sincere. They are an expression of the Love for mother and wife. A love which, like the one in Beyond the Tide, fi ghts in the name of Life. There is something deeply moving in the ritual of exorcising the evil spirit and the eff ort to ‘save’ – the mysterious, mystical, intoxicating action of a healing shaman embodied in the hope and love of a boy. Because Pigeonberry is a cinematic story that moves not only with its naturalistic realism (the child who makes a brew from the dead bird and the ‘healing’ berries), but also with its metaphors for the wisdom of ancient knowledge, in which the soul has its own destiny.

The magnetism of the crude story is also born out of the wonderful music designed by the father, who professionally records natural sounds, and of the natural song of the forest, which welcomes the synchronized rhythm of two hearts filled with hope and the will to make a change. On the other hand, the visual picture (director of photography David Lukacs) captures the viewer’s eye with its imagistic stylistics – saturated colours in the interior and exterior and in the actors’ clothing; a camera that paints in counterpoint to the background of the action; household details; authentic emotions, convincing actors’ ‘studies’ with a vibrant, distinguished identity; artistic and visual integrity which maintains tension and touches the viewer. Leonard Bodis himself is a superb discovery on the director’s part. His character Samu is genuinely authentic in his duality as a child who defines himself as a superhero but is afraid, and who is a sober observer, ready for experimentation, as well as an infinitely sensitive son who believes in fairy tales. He is the engine that transforms not only the father’s world but also the emotional empathy of the captive audience which manages to smile through tears. Because children’s innocence and faith are contagious. Because no matter how sober-minded, analytical, and down-to-earth we are, we all need magic, illusion and miracles in our lives, faith, hope, and love.

Beyond the Tide and Pigeonberry are short films which present Life as a Ferris wheel in perpetual motion, one you never know where it will take you, whether to the top or to the bottom, whether it will break or uplift you, but it will always excite, provoke, and attract you. The world in both fi lms falls apart, but it also rises like the continuous cycle of day and night, of the sun and the moon, of good and evil, of sorrow and awakening, of life and death. But there is also a constant in it – the parent- child bond, and it is sacred, earthly, mystical and eternal.



Beyond the Tide. Dirs. Ingo Monitor and Jan Mocka. Denmark, 2018.


Jodorowsky, Alejandro. Ходоровски, Алехандро. Танцът на реалността [TheDance of Reality]. Sofi a: Colibri, 2017.


Mandela, Nelson. The Long Walk to Freedom. London: Little, Brown and Co., 1994.

Markova, Olga. Маркова, Олга. Последните остават първи [The Last Remain First]. Sofi a: Iztok-Zapad, 2019.

Pigeonberry. Dir. Pici Pápai. Hungary, 2018.

Naydenova, Vera. Найденова, Вера. Унгарското кино 1968 – 2004 г [Hungarian Cinema 1968-2004]. Varna: Slavena Publishers, 2005.


Melanie Pereira

Universidade da Beira Interior

Abstract: The paper discusses the female characters in the

short films presented for discussion at the International Interdisciplinary Conference on the short film genre in Varna, Bulgaria in 2019. Throughout the films, directed by both male and female directors, we encounter the very brief presence of six wives and mothers, whose importance varies from plot device to plot insignifi cance, and solely one bold female lead character. Diversity in these women is apparently non-existent, which restricts them to stereotypes still too often present in films. While female characters usually have a difficult time to establish themselves, their development is simply non-existent, even impossible in these examples – they are condemned to be background characters. This paper will therefore discuss the lack of representation, the recurring stereotypes, and the short or non-existent relevance of female characters to the story.

Key words: film, feminism, short-film, stereotypes, meaning, plot


The importance of well-written female characters on our screens, as well as female film directors and technicians behind the cameras, is subject to a conversation still to be had, albe it admittedly not a new one. Being part of the team of Porto Femme International Film Festival, a Portuguese festival aiming to give female filmmakers the opportunity to share their stories and their perspectives, and so to inspire and support women’s presence in the film industry, it seemed only natural to bring to this conference the issues surrounding the female characters featuring in the seven case-study short films.

A recent report on Women and Independent Film in the years of 2018-19, published by Dr. Martha Lauzen (IndieWomen), states that the percentage of women behind the cameras of U.S. independent films has reached historic highs, with an overall 32% of all directors, writers, producers, and other positions having been filled by women. Moreover, during this year’s Toronto Film Festival, nearly 50% of Canadian films were directed by women. Nevertheless, historically, the film industry has always been a predominantly masculine space (see also Halfon and Brabant 2017, 67). Another report by Dr. Lauzen (It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World) reveals that the number of female protagonists increased in 2018, but only 35% of films included ten or more female leading roles, with 65% for male leading roles. Earlier this year, Ivana Katsarova (2019) wrote a report entitled “The place of women in European film productions”, in which she concluded that between 2012 and 2016 only 19.6% of European films were directed by women, with results by country varying from 5% to 30%, Portugal being at 13.1% and Bulgaria at 15.4%. Furthermore, female characters are overall outnumbered by their male counterparts by more than two to one.

These U.S. and Europe-based reports bring us to the seven fictional short films selected for the present conference’s case study. It seems pertinent to notice that these films include five male and three female directors. Overall, these seven films, their directors or their writers have been present at festivals such as the Berlin International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Festival de Cannes, IFTA Short Film Festival, ZINEBI Bilbao, and The Academy Awards. These are all highly recognized festivals in the industry which means they allegedly achieve renown and the status of film models to go by. They usually receive critical attention and so the stories told in them are likely to reach a vast public. All this makes the seven fi lms under consideration here apt subject for a discussion on the presence of women in them, both within their stories and in the making of the works themselves.

In her groundbreaking article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” written in 1975, feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey writes: “Woman, [..], stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of a woman still tied to her place as the bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning” (7).

And, indeed, such “bearers of meaning” are eleven out of the twelve female characters present throughout these fi lms, in opposition to their sixteen male counterparts, out of whom eleven are “makers of meaning”. Overall, we find ourselves in the very short presence of seven wives and mothers, and four little girls or daughters, whose importance varies from plot device to plot insignificance, and includes solely one bold female lead character. In terms of diversity, these women tend to be somewhat single-faceted, which restricts them to the stereotypes still too often present in films. While female characters usually have a difficult time establishing themselves, their development is simply non-existent, even impossible in these examples – they are condemned to be background characters.

Perhaps the most striking example can be found in Low Tide, which is the short-film about a father-son fishing trip that takes a weird turn. We are introduced to the only female character, supposedly the mother and wife, halfway through the film. She is in the kitchen, cooking, until father and son arrive. A brief explanation by the father and off to their respective sides they go. Throughout that short, less than one-minute-long scene, the mother simply stands there. She does not talk, she does not move, she does not engage with her shivering son, she stands completely still. Her face is never actually shown in the shots: she appears in a long-shot at the far back end of the kitchen and is then filmed from the back, framing the two male characters. She appears again towards the end of the fi lm, in two different shots, in the background and out-of-focus. She stands, she walks, we finally hear her voice, calling out for the dog apparently killed by her son. This female character is not even a “bearer of meaning” in the film; she has no importance whatsoever for the story. If she were omitted completely from it,nothing would change. The fishing trip would still happen, they would still come home – surely having to cook for themselves, the son would still go through his haunting process of transformation and the killing would take place.

In Mum’s Hairpins, we are presented with two female characters: a mother and a daughter/sister. The mother is extracting cherry stones with hairpins, before teaching her daughter how to do so herself and calling out to her son to fetch more hairpins. This female character is a motherly figure at best: she teaches with patience, she sings soothing lullabies, she cuddles and hugs, she shows her children nothing but aff ection and tenderness. Even physically, she radiates only warmth and kindness, with her kind blue eyes and her red hair. The soundtrack used here in itself suggests happiness and warmth. The story then moves on to the killing of the mother and the daughter by German soldiers, and the fleeing of the boy, who, in order to survive by passing by the Nazis and crossing the border, most interestingly disguises himself as a girl. We can say that the female characters are here “bearers of meaning”. They are the ones who propel the plot, by the need for more hairpins and the mother’s yelling to the son to run away. Through her pins, the mother specifically is an omnipresent character throughout the short film, but as an overt symbol of motherhood, loss, trauma and sacrifi ce, more than an established character on its own. In opposition to Low Tide, without the presence of the mother, the plot would hardly move forward, or if so, move into an entirely different direction.

Another “bearer of meaning” is Rimah, the only female character with relevance in Maradona’s Legs. In their quest to complete their world cup album, the two main characters, two young boys, cross their way with a young girl, who finally leads them to their one missing sticker. Her sole purpose is to guide the boys in their quest. Her only characteristics are that she too collects stickers, and her broken leg, the reason for which is never explained. Once again, the female character functions as a plot device and a plot propeller.

Pigeonberry, Beyond the Tide and Skin are, in a way, films very similar to one another with regards to their female characters. In Pigeonberry, the two female characters presented are a mother/wife and a little girl; they are not related, however. The story revolves around a boy trying to understand and cure his mother’s illness. The mother/wife is present on the screen from the very start, bathing and playing with her son. This female character immediately strikes us as limp, falling asleep while the water runs, her voice feeble, and ultimately losing a big portion of her hair: she is sick. After this initial sequence, the female character appears again only twice: the first time, holding and visibly comforting the husband/father, the last time unconscious in bed. In Beyond the Tide, we are yet again shown two female characters who represent a mother/wife-daughter duo. In this story, the mother washes up ashore unexpectedly, has a hysterical outburst against her daughter, is thrown out of the house by the husband/father, and appears in her husband’s apparent dreams. The film’s synopsis suggests that the daughter is the main character of the story, the one who “investigates a dark, tragic mystery.” But she cannot be considered the main character, even though she is present throughout most of the story: she witnesses her mother’s reappearance and questions her father about her. Throughout the plot, the daughter is a mere bystander to what is clearly a story belonging to the father. In Skin, a short-film dealing with racism and the clashes of two gangs, the female characters are, quite predictably, mothers/wives, each with more or less screen time. While witnessing a blatant hate crime against her husband, a black woman sits in her car with her son, crying out for her husband and later going to his aid. She is shown by the end of the film, sitting with him on a couch. Applying the same approach as with Low Tide above, it becomes evident that this character could as well be non-existent, without affecting the course of the narrative. While the black woman is given little screen time, the white mother/wife appears in more than two scenes, although her characterization remains very similar to that of the other woman. She does not have a real function except to protect her son: she warns her husband against encouraging their son to use a gun, she warns the boy against picking up a snake, she keeps him away from seeing the hate crime his father provokes, she tells him to hide when one night someone tries to enter their house. She is also playful with him, for example at the mall. Though being clearly part of a racist, if not neo-Nazi group, and holding such beliefs herself, she remains, even within the scope of her highly doubtful morality, a good motherly figure. Nevertheless, her actions are completely inconsequential: her husband still teaches her son to shoot, he still beats a man to near death, and ultimately, her son does not follow her advice and does not hide but kills the person who turns out to be his father.

These three films meet on diff erent aspects. First, the female characters, the mothers/wives, are very similar: they are fragileand dependent. They are “bearers of meaning”, the ones who instigate the plot. The little girl and the daughter simply sustain the plot’s continuity. The true “makers of meaning” in two of the stories – Pigeonberry and Skin – are the fathers/husbands and the sons. In the former, the son adamantly tries to save his mother, while his father either tries to stop him or helps him in his endeavour. While the mother is the person suffering from an illness in Pigeonberry, one has to question the decision to represent the father as the one who needs to be comforted and who is visibly struggling. Why isn’t she being comforted too? Why isn’t she, the mother of a young boy, the one shown to struggle with her illness and how it aff ects her boy? Where is the mother in her son’s quest? Simply in bed, unconscious? In a similar way, Beyond the Tide depicts a mother with a hysterical outburst, while in the next scene she transforms into a mystical dream figure talking from the beyond, taking care of her husband like a good mother and wife. As we begin to understand that it is the daughter who is dead and that reality is a mere dream-like coping mechanism for the father, it becomes apparent that the film is about him dealing with his guilt and heartbreak over his daughter’s death. Where does the mother fit into that scenario? She is part of the coping mechanism, helping her husband through his pain, being by his side when he wakes up, whether or not she herself is struggling with her daughter’s loss and husband’s coma. In Skin, the female characters are distressed mothers/wives, who suffer in the consequences of their husbands suff ering and/or kidnapping but are oblivious to their sons’ dubious growing intentions. While these women are characters who experience pain and suffering, the voices of these mothers/wives are silenced in their respective narratives.

Seven short films is admittedly a rather small sample. If we look at the films individually, the problems relating to women still remain, though they could maybe be overlooked for the benefit of the stories and their end message. However, seen as a unit, these films strike us as highly problematic in terms of their representation of women, more so when out of seven, only one has a female lead, and equally so when these are the films which circulate in high profiled film festivals. The lack of female diversity and representation, the recurring use of stereotypes and their limited participation in the stories indicate a deficiency we have yet to correct. It is undeniable that fi lm and other art forms have the power to articulate ideas and shape perceptions. The power of film therefore transcends that of a mere form of entertainment. It is because of this powerful influence and capacity that it is pertinent to discuss how films convey perceptions around race, class and gender, and whether those are the realities of the world or simply manifestations of normative ideologies and patriarchal structures. The understanding of our time is essential so we can break away from biased female characterizations and work on building more realistic and demanding female characters, who need to become “makers of meaning”.


Beyond the Tide. Dirs. Ingo Monitor and Jan Mocka. Denmark, 2018.

Low Tide. Dir. Ian Hunt Duff y. Ireland, 2018.

Maradona’s Legs. Dir. Firas Khoury. Germany/Palestine, 2019.

Mum’s Hairpins. Dir. Tatiana Fedorovskaya. Ukraine-Russia-Germany, 2019.

Pigeonberry. Dir. Pici Pápai. Hungary, 2018.

Skin. Dir. Guy Nattiv. USA, 2018.

Vaca. Dir. Marta Bayarri. Spain, 2018.


Beyond the Tide. Synopsis.


Halfon, Stéphanie. Study of the emergence of a new generation of European female film directors, 2016. Updated by Flore Brabant. LeLab, 2017.


Katsarova, Ivana. The place of women in European fi lm productions: fighting the

celluloid ceiling. European Parliament, 2019.

Kuhn, Annette. Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema. London: Verso, 1982.

Lauzen, Martha M. “Indie Women: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women

in Independent Film, 2018-19.” Center for the Study of Women in Film and

Television. San Diego University, 2019.

---. “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: Portrayals of Female Characters in the

Top Grossing Films of 2018.” Center for the Study of Women in Film and

Television. San Diego University, 2019.


Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.Screen, vol. 16, No.

3, Jan. 1975, 6–18.

Toronto International Film Festival. 44th edition, 2019.


*Translated by Zelma Catalan

Archetypal and Psychological Conceptions of Maturity in the Short Film Mum’s Hairpins

Polina Pencheva

Sofia University, MA Program in Literature, Cinema and Visual Culture

Abstract: Coming of age through initiation and catharsis, and the transformation to a new social role, are processes which can be challenged and terminally disrupted by circumstances such as war. They usually cause traumas and the only attempt to protect oneself would be the denial of reality and living in a magic fairy tale. The paper discusses the archetypal concepts of human existence which form the basis of the plot in the short film Mum’s Hairpins. The protagonist in it is forced to go through the process of initiation too early in his life. The question remains, however, if he will be able to complete the process when loneliness and nightmares are closely following him. The paper views the story in the film as an attempted escape from the “bloody” past and the forcibly stolen happiness and looks at the cinematic means of presenting his effort.

Key words: myth, fairy tale, archetype, catharsis, initiation, war, childhood, trauma

Can you carry on if you know that lying hidden somewhere in the past is a burden placed upon you and your family to be the heirs to the unspoken mistakes of time and history? Do you have the courage to look back and turn once again to one of the most sensitive topics in Europe of our time? We cannot change the history and the attitudes of our ancestors, no matter if they were good or bad, can we? Isn’t it our duty as descendants of those who caused the bloodiest and most shameful moments in modern human history, not to forget but to keep the memory alive, so that those events never happen again? And what if today we are making our own history but are doing it in the wrong way rit’s the wrong kind of history?

The short film Mum’s Hairpins (Ukraine-Russia-Germany, 2019) is almost unconsciously trying to answer all these questions. Director Tatiana Fedorovska is making a bold move, setting out to situate her story during the Holocaust and World War II, of which dozens of filmmakers before her have already given their interpretations. Yet it seems that in the last 10 years cinema, especially in Europe, is not so interested in this problematic and has focused its gaze on the present and the problems of modern society, such as the refugee crisis, LGBT rights and their infringement, the issues of gender, domestic violence, or “life” in the digital space. For some, therefore, Mum’s Hairpins might simply be a movie lacking in interesting modern ideas. Nevertheless, its 1941 historical setting alone need not delude us that it does not draw much attention to our times. On the contrary – hardly anyone would disagree that escape, maturation and death are eternal existential topics.

The events in the movie are not entirely fictional. Mum’s Hairpins is based on the fascinating story of director Tatyana Fedorovska’s grandfather Yasha, who in 1941 managed to escape, along with a small wounded goat kid, from Radomyshl, a largely Jewish city in Ukraine which was occupied by the Germans. The only memento he manages to take with him is a box of his mum’s hairpins. The whole story is presented through the naive perception of a child, that of 10-year-old Yasha, who is trying to survive in a hopeless situation. Visible at many places in the plot is a very clear attempt to reproduce a model of protagonist initiation. More than one or two situations in it are reminiscent of a way out of reality, as if it were a story as old as the world. At times, the situation seems almost to verge on absurdity, and the spatial and circumstantial details remind of those in a fairy tale.

The best short films usually focus on having a well-constructed story. Only after the viewers are immersed in it and begin to feel ‘comfortable’ in the fiction can they decide what is important and unimportant within the film. At the same time, the interaction of the characters with the story is what sustains the interest and supports the main conflict.

Already in the first frame of the film we see the mother’s hands smeared with the sticky cherry juice. She expertly removes the stones from the fruit in order to provide winter supplies which she will use to feed her children. The red colour of the thick liquid is the first sign that something bad will happen or someone will lose his/her life in pain. It could also be seen as a metaphor for the guilt that she as a parent was unable to sustain her young daughter’s life. The shots are arranged so that immediately after this disturbing symbol of death in the image of cherry juice, we see the little girl. The dirty hands are reminiscent of traces of blood.

Good framing is notable in this fi lm. Most directors, especially in short films, use a technique in which the fi rst episode begins with a long shot as orientation in the setting and in the identity of the characters, showing the location and the overall sense of the world which is about to be revealed. Then, as the suspense grows and the plot thickens, the shots become medium or close. The deeper we enter into the inner world of the character, the more visually close to us he or she becomes. Mum’s Hairpins uses a more specific size for the first frame. The fi lm begins with a close-up of a detail, an object held in the mother’s hand, and in the fi rst few seconds its touch functions as a directive towards its importance. The idea is to impress it upon the viewer that the whole story will be guided precisely by the hairpins, and that the movement will be from part to the whole, not the other way around.

Sounds of birds and domestic animals can be heard, and the viewers might almost believe they are watching an idyllic rural picture if it weren’t for the paucity of colors. And it seems as if there is no one else around, as if the house is not in a village but in the forest itself. The feeling of isolation from the world, far from the big city, from everything new and modern seems quite strong. Here, in this remote location, everything is rooted in the old archetypal structural models of the human world. Someone will be given the opportunity to reinvent and prove themselves in search of a new social identity.

At times, while the characters are out in the yard, the viewer may even be disoriented as to the exact time and place. Certainly, the language spoken by the characters, the beautiful props and costumes all point to somewhere in Eastern Europe. Still, this story touches on a rather theme such as the Holocaust which is geographically more comprehensive and could equally well be set in neighboring countries. This does not prevent the story from growing inside with few or many causal links, without the characters having to declare on their own who they are, what they fear or what they are running away from. Film is, after all, a visual medium and in it, action is quite sufficient. To achieve an even more powerful sense of authenticity, the filmmakers spent a week creating props using local materials and artifacts provided by the Russian Museum of Jewish History.

The characters seem to be in a hypothetical periphery of everything that is important. Here, life moves with a completely diff erent dynamics. Everything looks as if it were happening at a slow pace. However, the problem – the arrival of the Nazis – reaches even the locations considered to be isolated. No one can escape and no one can hide. The action unfolds within 24 hours, with the presented events thickening and the tension unrelieved even for a moment. Dialogues are as short as possible and only highlight important moments at the right places, without being overly melodramatic.

After the mother is introduced, it is time for the attention to move to the two children - an infant girl and 10-year-old Yasha. There is something strange in this small world and its fi rst sign is the absence of a male figure. The patriarch, the upholder of the family is missing. During the fi rst few minutes of the movie, the viewer seems to be expecting his appearance, but also knows that he will not appear. His duties are entrusted to the small boy. The women are at the table involved in domestic chores, just as they are expected to be according to the archetypal concept. Yasha should be with his father performing the male part of the duties. Here, however, the whole responsibility of the man in the house falls too early on the child who is forced by the circumstances to take on this role.

Let us recall the archetypal story in magic fairy tales which can be interpreted as the “key” to the protagonist’s behavior. As noted above, the unreal appearance of the whole place is aided by both interesting mise-en-scene and faded, almost black-and-white shots that look not only as if they belonged to another time but also to another world. They can also be treated as that mythical space where a boy must reside for some time before becoming a man. If Yasha were the right age, we might believe that he would be positioned at the point of transition between childhood and manhood, the border he must cross and the obstacles he would have to overcome before transforming into an adult. Here, however, while the prerequisites for this to occur are present, the boy is too young to initiate a possible process of catharsis.

In no way can it be said that this is a dreamed-of or a yearned for event. Yasha is forced to grow up too early. During the whole movie the events are seen through the naive perception of the child. He thinks of work as too heavy and the situation unfair. Instead of playing, he is burdened with tasks and duties that he is not prepared for. Domestic work is not enough to move him any step closer to growing up. At the first opportunity, Yasha escapes in the arms of his mother who must provide him with the necessary comfort and protection. Even stronger evidence for this is the lullaby that she sings to him. He is still her young child. The fact that this soothes him and he still continues to seek this closeness symbolizes infantile, in the good sense of the word, behavior. For her part, the mother tries to put him to sleep because this is the only way she can protect him from this world. Only in an illusory existence will her boy not be hurt because the threat is approaching. Director Tatiana Fedorovska says she used a recording of the lullaby song “Schlof sche mean vogele” (“Sleep Well My Little Bird”).

Due to the shortness of this film form and the duration of only 19 minutes, the transition into the action itself must be achieved very quickly; there is no available time to create more background. In order to add additional meaning and metaphor, short films employ a very interesting technique, namely the attempt to relate the inner experience to the external objects and the characters’ directed movements, so that touching signifi cant objects or parts of the décor can convey to the viewers a certain emotion and direct them as to what the character is thinking about. The inner world begins to identify with the outside one based on touch and sensory impressions. This is how objects of death and salvation are reached. The introduction of Yasha into the fi rst frame where we see him is done through the hook he is holding in his hands. It is true that this hook may be the tool that helps him to accomplish his duties, but it can also be easily seen as a sort of gallows hooked to a tree.

The other very important element that reminds of a hook is the mother’s hairpins themselves. They are the tool she uses to pull out the cherry pits. A metaphor for death, but also one for the little “hook” of hope for salvation in a hopeless situation. The mother sends her son to fetch the hairpins and this small, senseless move saves him from being captured by the Nazis.

The earth is shaking and we don’t need excessively bloody or violent scenes to understand that this is an indication of an unwanted invasion into the hero’s world. The entire cosmos is destroyed and within just a few minutes the idyll is ruined. Chaos ensues in the small, enclosed world of people on the periphery. Yasha leaves home and by the logic of the magic tale which dictates that he should distance himself from the familiar, fulfills one of the conditions for catharsis. It cannot be realized in the home and the feminized world of the mother. Yasha is now alone against the evil in the world. Invariably, trotting after him is a goat with which the boy has a special connection. Taking a bullet designed for the little fugitive, the goat becomes his savior and imaginary friend, loaded with human qualities. The kid goat seems to be reading his thoughts and they both communicate unproblematically. This is due to the child’s instinct for self-preservation, thanks to which loneliness cannot be perceived and realized. He needs support and friendship, so he invents them himself. Whether because of the intense post-traumatic stress he experiences or because of the syncretic childish position that allows him to perceive the world as an indissoluble whole, without a clear distinction between real and fantasy- born figures, Yasha makes a new friend in the goat’s face. The animal is like a pillar of support, like a “crutch” which helps him sustain the delusion that he is not alone. The goat is his magical helper who helps him to get out. Again, it is the mother’s hairpins that help the goat to be rescued. They are that hook which will literally and fi guratively keep saving Yasha for the rest of his life. In time, it will be his only connection to the past, one that can make him a better person. They are seemingly unimportant objects, laden with childhood memories, which will not allow him to forget his roots and give him the strength to pass on the covenant of peace to the next generation. The past is past, but the connection to it is made only in memory and the hairpins as its element.

The film poses the dilemma whether the idea placed into the film at the level of the screenplay involves an ordinary character in an unusual situation or an unusual character in an ordinary situation. It is difficult to characterize the background of the action, because in any case war is a diversion from normality. But is our protagonist an ordinary person? Perhaps yes, but against the backdrop of this excessively aggressive psychic environment, he manages to develop an extraordinary sense of self-preservation. The conclusion is that any ordinary character placed in a diffi cult situation can become extraordinary based on the actions he takes.

The coloring in Mum’s Hairpins adds meaning to half of the story. Here, worth focusing on are three main objects of study regarding color in film, as their use differentiates ordinary directors from good visual artists. They are saturation, light, and hue and the play with these elements can be limitless.

In the first few minutes of the film, the viewers will try to orient themselves and to make out whether or not they are watching a black and white film, but gradually they realize that this is not really the case. The whole world is discolored and the only exception is the mother and the two children, their bright red hair being particularly striking. Everything prepares for the long night, both the bright and the dark part of the day where Yasha finds himself in a burning house. Eternal pain and darkness determine time as a whole. The world is not seen as a contrast between black and white in the two extremes of “good” and “evil”; it has lost its colors and metaphorical happiness. It is as if someone had come and “stolen” the light, defaced and discolored childhood. This is how the past is seen, except for the dream as a surreal construction.

The dream itself is one of the most interesting elements in the movie. We see “Sasha rising” as if in a trance. It is a way of the mind to try to escape from reality after the intense emotional stress of the events, a way to stay healthy. The camera seems to shift the body from reality in order to produce the apparent separation between the boy’s inner world and his child’s perspective on life and the external one that can hurt him. In cinema, dream is often used for several purposes: for a short break of the meaning accumulated so far by the viewer, or to provide additional information about the main character, allowing the audience to delve into his subconscious and to understand what really aff ected him or her. In this film, it is the second option that is employed.

In Yasha’s case, the viewers will often wonder if he is having a dream or a hallucination, though whichever conclusion they come to will be correct. The whole conception of this brief moment is like an account of what has happened so far under the power of the musical theme of the lullaby. We see cherries that for the child symbolize happiness. We see the mother and the little sister near the table alive and … unexpectedly, for the fi rst and the last time, in something like a flashback there appears a carcass hanging from a tree. We fi nally fi nd out what happened to the father. A moment later, the cherries disappear from their stems just like the stolen happiness and the tearing away of millions of roots and homes. Everything built up so far is gone. And it has to be rebuilt.

A very interesting and almost fabulous detail is the path that takes the boy back home. He has already proved to himself that he can take care of another living creature by saving a goat in the woods and getting a chance to “bury” his past in order to move on. The pathway to the old home is littered with leaflets for wanted people. The shot from above reveals a disturbing picture of a deserted street. The leaves are like little traces of home. A new fabulous outof- the-world line is unveiled, resembling the finding a way ahead as in the Hansel and Gretel tale.

One of the most interesting dramaturgical solutions is to dress him in women’s clothes. The trials so far have deepened the connection lost with the onset of puberty, and so the solution is not fully realized, but rather takes on a different character. Dressing up gives Yasha a new identity. We can see this as a desire to become unrecognizable and, indeed, it comes to fruition. It is a prerequisite that he should have just returned from the forest, from his stay on the hypothetical side of death, in order to make an attempt to be “reborn” into his new social role, which, as has become clear, will not be the expected one.

In effect, his maturation will end after he leaves the world of evil in which his family perishes. In Mum’s Hairpins we see only the causes for and the beginning of this new stage for the character. How it will end can be explored by a new story. It is only clear that the ending will be at some place after he stops his boat at the other river bank. What happened to Yasha after his escape and how he managed to properly complete his early and confused transformation into a young man is now a subject for another movie. One of the most frequently discussed issues is that in the full-length feature fi lm, the character is expected to undergo a catharsis or a more fundamental transformation which will be completed in the film, while in the short film the character may not realize the consequences of his or her actions and stay the same because what happened afterwards is another story. What we find within this particular story are the characteristic moments in which the character makes decisive choices and changes the situation.

What is special about short movies is that they usually deal with a short “snatch” of time in the story, while here we also have a scene that shows us the character as an adult. This stage has marked his entire life and the end will only be where he manages to pass on to the next generation the covenant of salvation, memory and peace. This is a technique more typical of full-length cinema. It is also a rather cunning move by the makers of Mum’s Hairpins to complete a story with an ending that fi ts in perfectly throughout, though at another moment in time.

Before looking at the fi nal scene in more detail, mention should be made of the episode of the fl ight down the river itself. Water and fire are the two substances that can “kill” someone in their old form and “give birth to them” in a brand new role in the world. In Mum’s Hairpins, this transformation is possible because both of these specific natural forces exist. The house is destroyed in flames and the escape takes place down the river. The boy and the goat kid are in a metaphorical boat, which, as in the Greek myth, can lead them to or take them out of the Nether World. However, much like the dog Cerberus, the Germans are on guard there, and only cunning can fool them. Yasha does the job. The situation of a kid goat dressed as a human infant and a boy in women’s clothes seems so absurd in the eyes of the Nazis that if they were allowed to believe in its truth, they would question their own mental health. This indeed is the only chance the two friends have.

The last “hook” in the story is the German at the river bank himself. This “hook” takes the form of a swastika, which he places on the body of the child as he rows away, similar to a weapon seeking the target. Indeed, it will be the most exterminating weapon for the Jewish population during the entire occupation, but also the link to Ulrich the German’s personal ideals. His image is cropped to the waist and the camera shoots him at a sharp angle from below. This puts him in a position above the characters, staring at the viewer from above. He is the demiurge who decides who will live and who will die – the man with limitless power. When will this fake bubble burst? one may ask. The answer is: when he manages to make himself doubt his own decisions, justifi ed by another spell of drunkenness!

The twenty-four hours in which the narrative in the first part of the film unfolds do not end the storyline. If the movie had ended there on the river, the viewer would probably have focused on two story outcomes. One interpretation might be that in which Yasha manages to escape and never returns to his native village, and another is his possible subsequent death because due to his ethnic origin he still remains an object of hate. The decision to add the fi nal scene, which shows Radomyshl in present days, shatters both assumptions, however logical they might be.

An elderly man sits in the assigned position of the patriarch of the family at a table strewn with cherries and with children around it. Could he be Yasha, who has managed to pass on the covenant to his grandchildren? Who knows? And who knows whether this figure of a man resembling a hermit or a person who has renounced earthly passions is not meant to show us that the role he has assumed in his life is that of a leader and guardian of the memory of the community, and that he himself has given up physically fathering biological children so that he can become the father of all children in the world? This is one more unanswered question that points us into another direction. The viewer should also notice the presence of little Yasha at this table. Indeed, for a few seconds he appears next to the children who are pitting cherries. Could this be a coincidence? Certainly not. What if it is a projection, a rebirth and a new chance to relive a lost childhood? Why not? The whole film verges on the absurd, on fairy tale and reality that intertwine. Salvation may have more than one face.

But back to the colors in the movie. It is impossible to miss the expressive contrast with the color red, whose referent in the psychology of color is blood. Color also defi nes excitement, vitality, physical strength, impulse. This is a color that is often combined with black and white in one of the techniques of fi ne arts. It is a color that evens out skin tone and makes it stand out against any dark background. Furthermore, red radiates thirst and desire for life, just as it also means danger and threat. It is a color that distinguishes the images in the crowd and attracts attention. This external signification is given by the colorists of the movie to the Jews who are to attract the Nazis’ attention. One of the trickiest moves in the plot of the fi lm cannot go unnoticed: it is the scene in which little Yasha crosses the river wearing a headscarf. If one is at risk of being judged by their external characteristics, it is now minimized. Neither gender nor anything else can be related to the wanted boy.

Another reference to the color red that immediately springs to mind when seeing the color scheme of the movie is the scene with the little girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List. She is one of the few colored objects that appear anywhere in that film, yet almost none but Schindler notice it. Yasha’s red hair has a no less similarly striking effect, which “irritates” the viewer’s eye while following the whole story. In a like manner, the little boy is a representative sample of many similar fates, yet only of those who have managed to survive.

The camera is stable throughout almost the entire film, except that at the moments of escape it seems to be handheld and corresponds to the gradation of tension. The close-ups of the characters are extremely powerful and contribute to a strong experience of empathy. The effect is amplified by the natural noises coming from the environment, mixed with the maximally refined sound of fragments of Mahler’s and Rachmaninov’s symphonies.

The acting is perfectly natural, and it makes you believe in what is happening on screen. Director Tatiana Fedorovska says the casting was surprisingly easy and she had no hesitation in choosing her actors. Within half an hour after posting a Facebook message asking for a 10-year-old red-haired boy, she received a video of the perfect candidate. Accidentally or not, he is also called Yasha. The young actor builds an extremely credible inner world and physical life for his character. He has the diffi cult task of playing a character who, in the first part of the film, is more driven by the action rather than provoking it while, as he gets into the forest, he starts pushing every single episode to the very end. The image changes from passive to active, which is largely related to early growth and catharsis.

In its essence, Mum’s Hairpins is a short fi lm extremely rich in various meanings and psychological conceptions. Every true tragedy in it hides much more than one psychological layer. It is definitely one of the most ambitious and visually impressive productions at the ISFF In The Palace program in 2019. The film engages clear authorial positions and does not resort to caution which is so deleterious to art. Perhaps the image of the Germans could have been a little clearer and more layered so that they do not look like absolute villains. They lack the emotional human element and thus become schematic and predictable. It is too easy for us to declare them antagonists, whereas the viewer might have been provoked by to experience an inner struggle to decide whether it wasn’t too easy to regard Yasha as the victim. Perhaps also, at times some of the messages are too sophisticated for the general public’s taste and may be misunderstood by some. Others, however, will be fascinated by the extremely rich set of metaphors, of visual and semantic elements in this 19-minute film.

The message at the end of this whole experience can be only one: Mum’s Hairpins is not just a historical account of what happened in 1941. It is a window to children’s view of human tragedy. Growing up and transforming oneself for a new social role are processes that can be triggered and forever disturbed by the wrong circumstance that will cause the adolescent a deep psychological trauma. And one wonders if the whole generation of our grandfathers does not carry it still.

*Translated by Zelma Catalan

Irina Karakehayova

Sofia University

Abstract: The paper discusses the diff erent levels of denotation in the film Maradona’s Legs by Firas Khouri in the context of football and Palestine’s history. It analyzes the phenomenon of being a fan through R. Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments and seeks connections with the feeling of belonging and the attitude to one’s country. An attempt is made to decipher the visual code in order to reveal the director’s covert messages.

Key words: Maradona’s Legs, football, fan, lover, Barthes

The Political Context

The film’s action is set on the territory of one of the world’s most discussed confl icts, which, moreover, involves military action that hasn’t ended and shows no promise of a happy outcome. I will leave history and social justice aside for the moment and will keep my own views at a remove from the film, so that I can place into focus two indisputable facts about the reality it presents: the factual presence of a conflict and of bloodshedding. Both have been going on in spite of occasional periods of abatement of hostilities whose intensity and scope seem almost incompatible with the limited territory where they occur. Remarkably, the director of Maradona’s Legs Firas Khouri manages to prevent this dramatic and painful reality from intruding into the film and he does so by means of devices and signs with different degrees of indirection and detached from propaganda. At the same time, they are noticeable enough and affect the viewers by pointing to the human dimension of the military conflict. The main characters are two children, the elder barely eleven years old, so no one would expect them to be fully aware of all the complexity of their people’s predicament. They are obsessed with the passions surrounding the football World Cup and never comment on what the Palestinian Intifada fighters say during their interruptions of the radio transmissions. On the contrary – they merely wait for the resumption of the football news. Thus, on the level of language, the subject of the Intifada is almost completely absent, with the exception of the sound background and the fi nal song. But the language of cinema itself gives due prominence to the signs of the conflict and the innocent victims.

The first frame shows the protagonists wrapped in a national flag, which is the one of their favourite team – that of Brazil. This makes them not only brothers by birth and fans of the same team but also brothers under one flag, their movements directed towards the same goal. Later it becomes clear that this goal is completing an album of stickers, though it is the image of “brothers marching steadfast under one flag” that endures.

All the houses in the village look like embassies – perched on each of them is the flag of the favourite football team of its inhabitants. As the fi lm director explains, this is because Palestinians could not raise their own national fl ag. In this way, the substitution of football for politics stands for the wounded national identity whose visible absence all the more confirms its virtual presence. Palestine is an imaginary state because it has no territory, yet at the same time it is a real one because it has a population. Strengthened further by the salient visuality so characteristic of fl ags (bright contrasting colours, clear graphics, symbolism in the colour choice and in the coat of arms), the various flags of other states become a sign of the unrealized need of nationhood. “Others live on their land, our land lives within us” – this is the well-known Palestinian slogan. Thus, without resorting to openly politicized messages, Firas Khouri builds a clearly outlined cinematographic representation of repressed nationhood which must hide beneath borrowed national flags. He does so by placing it under the perspective of humour: the boys are so gripped by their football passion that they see the village as if it were a fairground enlivened with colourful fl ags. Yet beneath all this is the painful wound inflicted on national identity, and the motley colour palette is just a cover that makes the hurt even more strongly felt. It raises the question of “How can we survive if we can’t walk on our own land but are forced only to carry it in our hearts?” Besides, the flag of the “enemy” team, Argentina, with its colours and design, reminds of that of Israel. One of the protagonists has a broken hand, another girl, who makes a brief appearance, has a broken leg and still another child is in a wheelchair. In general, then, the bloodshed resulting from the conflict is rendered through these indirect visual details on a symbolic level, rather than on that of the narrative proper.

The Football Context

The World Cup

At the 1990 World Cup, Argentina arrived as the current world champion. Its title, however, had been won in 1986 under rather murky circumstances. They involved what Maradona himself called “God’s hand”: the first goal he had scored in the quarter final match against England may have been with his head but certainly with his hand too. It was a match that also took place within the diffi cult political context of the Falkland War between England and Argentina. So, according to the Argentinians themselves, Maradona’s saying that the goal was effected “by Maradona’s head and God’s hand” was in no way an admission that he had struck the ball with his fi st, nor did it reflect a belief that he himself was God. It meant that God had taken the side of the innocent victims and had brought them joy after their suffering during the Falkland crisis. Firas Khouri’s heroes are against the Argentinian football team because they support their rival, Brazil, yet at the same time the wording for the umpire’s error reminds of Israel’s assertion that Palestinian land belongs to them by God’s will. A confi rmation of this can be observed in the boys’ diff erent attitude to the Argentinian team and to its star, Maradona himself. The Argentines are the enemies and according to the rules of football fandom, their supporters are all enemies as well. And yet, this is not the case with the brilliant Argentinian striker and it is the lower part of his photo that they are trying to fi nd throughout the whole film. The elder bother forbids spitting on his photo: “We don’t like him but he is great footballer.” Maradona is thus excluded from the hated group of those wearing the white and blue kit. Might it be because of this?

Brazil was eliminated and it was Argentina who did it, in a kind of parallel with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the final game, however, it lost to Germany. And the elder brother’s prediction in his dramatic outburst, which brings him the coveted missing sticker with Maradona’s legs, became a reality in 1994. Brazil won the World Cup.

The boy’s monologue marks the climax in the movie, with its explosion of emotional intensity. But again, everything is masked as no more than the world of football. A true fan does not reject his team and does not remove his t-shirt when it loses a game. In a like manner, a homeland going through diffi cult times cannot be rejected or forgotten and the hope for its resurrection must be kept alive.

… suffering bonds me stronger to you

And makes of our love a common destiny,

Bulgarian poet Atanas Dalchev writes of his homeland. Eleven- year old Rafat cries out: “Men are those who stay in victory and defeat! They don’t curse them when they lose!” But his words also refer to the global dimension of the confl ict: “Do you think Brazil plays for you alone? They play for the whole world!” And the gesture where he throws his yellow t-shirt at the older boy is like the glove thrown at those who are ready to reject their national identity and give up the struggle, even though they may be driven by desperation: “We want fans to the grave!”

What is it like being a fan?
To begin with, to define a fan as a supporter of a football club or team is highly inaccurate. Also, the proper characterization of fandom should exclude hooliganism and extreme violence, ultras, people who change their names, maniacal collectors and statisticians. As one living amongst three football fans, I have long stopped raising my eyebrows when I hear, “We have bought a new defender, we have a new manager.” And still, I cannot stop wondering at the fandom phenomenon. In Maradona’s Legs it has been turned into a global metaphor for the attitude to the homeland.Looking at Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragmentswe can distinguish many features fans and lovers have in common, and find that their discourses share quite a lot of territory.

The football fan feels absorbed by the team even though the players themselves are completely unaware of his existence. At the stadium or in front of the television, he believes he is right there on the pitch – the obvious spatial boundary simply disappears. He lets the game and the obsession with victory overpower him entirely. His emotions are polarized and swing from ecstasy to misery and back, both bringing on the same state of euphoria. All of this is clearly visible in the two brothers Rafat and Fadel. But it is also characteristic of whole nations, when they are in a subordinate position and are fi ghting for rights, recognition and independence. Their image of the nation is very different from the sense of national belonging held by free citizens who live in material comfort and whose rights are guaranteed. In the former case, the image is invested with polar emotions and romantic idealism. The patriotic cause dominates all other aspects, as, for instance, happens with Insarov in Turgenev’s On the Eve. Firas Khouri has chosen to show all this by means of indirection, through the signs of love for the favourite team.

Being adorable (Barthes 18)
The fan analyzes every detail of the game and every characteristic of the players and their managers, often fi nding fault with them. But there comes a moment, such as an important game generating a lot of tension, let alone a decisive one, when the whole focus is on the unity of the team. All desire to describe, analyze or comment is gone, as is the minute attention to particular characteristics. At times like these one can hear exclamations such as “Awesome!” “God is a Bulgarian!” or “Jerks!” You may appreciate a given player’s abilities, technique, endurance level or tactics but this doesn’t make you a fan. You become one when you need just a single word to express your attitude. An enslaved homeland is always adorable.

Imperviousness to change
A fan is steadfast. Nothing can make him give up his passion– neither lost games, nor the team’s broken reputation, nor bad experiences at the stadium. The fan’s support never wavers. For him, being a fan is a value in itself irrespective of any rational arguments he may hear pointing to its meaninglessness. The fan knows well the lover’s paradoxical state of feeling happy and unhappy at the same time. Even when a defeat has made him miserable, he still enjoys being a fan and a member of the community gathered around his team. He is gripped by excitement, which pushes him to back his team no matter what or before whom. He always finds the time to follow his team and does it gladly, without the sense of having sacrifi ced anything for his fandom. All this is clearly shown in Rafat’s monologue which gets him the rare sticker. Rafat declares himself an eternally loyal fan of the Brazilian team, irrespective of how it may fare in the future. His declaration is analogous to the one made by someone who pledges to remain forever loyal to his country.

Although he is fully familiar with the reality of a lost game and knows that “it’s just a game,” before every important match the football fan is gripped by one and the same kind of fear of loss. Children especially experience both real and hypothetical loss quite dramatically. We see that in the fi lm after Brazil’s defeat and elimination from the tournament.

Being in love with love
Admittedly, the fan hasn’t been merely attracted by one of the thousands of teams. He is trapped in a never-ending bond with that team, where the experience of being a fan is much more important than the team alone. That’s why its ranking is of no significance, just as for the lover the actual characteristics of his or her object are not at all important. A child may be drawn to fancying a very successful team. And when, as will happen at least for a time, that team starts to lose positions, if he is a true fan, he won’t betray it. If he switches allegiance, this would mean he was not a true fan. Again, it is in Rafat’s monologue that we see evidence for this aspect of fandom. It is there not only in the words he speaks, but also in his impassioned tone and in his facial expressions, both of which stand in stark contrast with the restraint he shows to his younger brother. And again, we notice the obvious allusion to the attitude to the homeland. This attitude excludes all cynicism, such as that expressed by Bajes, however motivated it might be. An excellent illustration is also the boys’ decision to keep the album and so lose the prize. The most important thing is not the award but the preservation of that peculiar bond, of the emotional attachment you have built.


To those indifferent to football, all teams are if not the same, then very similar. For the afi cionados, every team has its own set of characteristics which may change over time. This is true of the favorite team as well, and the fan knows all its different aspects better than anyone else. Still, they don’t seem to matter. They have stopped being integrated into his emotional relation to the team because he will support it no matter what. In this way the object of his passion drops out of all classifi cations and becomes unique. It can be categorized only by those who are not fans. It goes without saying that the homeland is unique but in this particular case it also fulfi lls the criterion of atopos. Every state contains a real and actual topos, but in the case of Palestine it’s contingent and symbolic – “our land lives within us.”

The time preceding the match is fi lled with both joyous anticipation and overwhelming fear of what may come to happen.

The fan experiences the loss of an important game as a catastrophe. He has become such an integral part of the team that he takes its failures as his own dramatic ones. His passion does not allow grades of intensity or any rationality.

In countries which have lost their independence the sense of catastrophe recurs with particularly intensity and frequency.

The heart
“My heart and my soul for Levski, Sofia!”

What’s to be done?
The fan is unable to wait patiently for the tournament to take its course or for the opening of the transfer window. In his mind, he constantly revolves the question “What if…?” He debates all possible results, the transfers under discussion, managerial tactics and, when he fi nds fault with them, their outcomes. Although he is in reality nothing but a passive observer, his mind is busy considering potential problems and available solutions. No less agitated is the inner world of people living in an occupied territory, even though “life goes on” and they experience the problems and the happiness common to all. Overpowering their thoughts is the subject of independence and the means of achieving it.


Only another fan can understand you, even if he isn’t on your side and supports the opponents. In the film we see that in the interaction with the neighbours’ child who is a fan of Argentina.


For the fan, luck is invariably on the side of the enemy team. He believes everyone is plotting against his team’s coveted victory. Unfortunately, in the struggle for independence, the obstacles are not imaginary ones.


The fan can never stop talking about his team, its past and its present, its performance, about what needs to be done, the future possibilities, about his own feelings related to all of this. Literature, too, abounds in examples of endless talking about the sad fate of the homeland.

Dedication to the loved one

Many fans have dedicated something to their team, sometimes with comic effect. I myself have watched Svetoslav Draganov, a documentary filmmaker, dedicate the opening night of one of his films to the victory of his team Levski.

No matter where he finds himself, the fan follows the activities of his team. He makes use of all channels of information to make sure he gets the latest news about it. The same happens with people who have left their country but cannot sever their link with it.

Without limits
The fan’s behavior is often extreme, without restraint or rational thinking. This has nothing in common with hooliganism whose roots must be sought outside the game. Even if the fan is by nature a quiet person, you can see him in an entirely different light when he is watching a game. He may be normally be careful with his money but when it comes to a game his team is going to play, he will travel enormous distances, buy expensive tickets or spend a fortune in the fan shop. He may be a patient parent but will hardly tolerate his children supporting a football team different from his own. For the same reasons, there are people ready to take part in a war of independence. Rafat shows himself to be that sort of person when he shouts his monologue in Nazareth.

Before, during and for a time after a game, the world becomes disreal (Barthes 89). The fan is fully aware of its existence, he sees it, he hears it, he senses it, he moves within it, but all of this is done as if from a distance. What is real is only the game and only within it does the fan live. A good example of this comes in the episode when the children manage to hitch a lift. During their journey they forget how badly they need a transport – they forget reality altogether – and become completely overwhelmed by their football emotions. As a result, they find themselves again standing on the road – only because they had been cheering the driver’s enemy team.


The passionate love of his team is the fan’s sensitive point where he can very easily be wounded. It’s that subject which doesn’t tolerate joking with and causes him to lose his temper. It’s just the same with the question of national identity and human rights.


If a fan leaves his seat in front of the TV even for a moment and just then his team concedes a goal, he will certainly feel guilty. Guilt is also felt by those who think they aren’t doing enough for their country when it’s going through diffi culties.

Special days”
Every game is a festive occasion irrespective of the result. “When are we playing?” fans ask each other and even if their team is expected to lose, the day remains a special one. Every nation, including repressed ones, has its own special days.

I’m crazy”

Without actually being crazy, the fan loves representing himself as such whenever the subject of football comes up. “I’m a completely normal person but when my team is playing I go crazy.” In the struggle for freedom human behavior oversteps all limits.

For a long time my sons’ most wished-for clothes were the kits of their favourite teams. They wanted to wear them even when they were required to dress formally. Judging by the price of original kits or souvenirs, we can be sure that they are just as highly valued by grown-up fans. Throughout the film, Rafat and Fadel are dressed in the jerseys and shorts worn by the Brazilian players. The other children too are seen wearing the kits of their favourite teams. At the same time, Palestinian symbols are nowhere to be seen. Their absence is made even more conspicuous by the bright colours of the football imagery.

Identification with another fan
The fan can easily step into the shoes of another team’s fan and share his emotions. We see that in the boys’ interaction with the other children in theneighbourhood. Although at times they appear to be their enemies, these children are the only ones who really understand. The parents, by contrast, are distanced and don’t show enough empathy for their children.

The remembered image is of crucial importance to the fan. His memory has retained scores of goals and he is capable of watching one and the same key moment over and over again. The significance and the symbolic meaning of the image is the reason why the children give up a most fabulous gift only for the sake of keeping the album with the stickers showing the football players.

Show me who I should love

Quite often the child becomes a fan of his father’s team, or if the father has none, of that of another family member or a friend.

This can’t go on
When things aren’t going well for the team, the fan wails, “This can’t go on!” and starts proposing solutions that no one else is willing to listen to. The fact that nothing depends on him doesn’t stop him from thinking, suff ering, proposing other players and managers or new tactics and wanting things to change. Nevertheless, his support for his team remains as staunch as ever. Even if the political situation is hopeless, people won’t resign themselves to it.

Incessant talking/rubbing salt in the wound
Fans keep going back to the same moments, whether happy or sad. They can’t stop talking and endlessly evoking them, even if this brings them negative emotions. Tragic moments keep recurring. The nation can never forget them.


Like the players themselves, fans have their rituals, superstitions, and obligatory procedures. They may not be convinced that these will help their team win but they don’t dare give any of them up. There exist national rituals too.

Every accessory of the sport becomes part of the team itself and so turns into an object of special value. Especially if it has a history of its own. There are national fetishes too.

Fans are not ashamed to cry. The history of the nation can also bring tears into people’s eyes.

Temper tantrums

Fans can become hysterical with managers, trainers, players or other fans of their team. We see such a scene in the Nazareth episode in the film.

Only with another fan of your team can you share your misery over its poor performance.


Fans are filled with memories, both sad and happy, to which they return and which they talk about among themselves.


The most famous cases of suicide are those in Brazil after it lost in the 1950 World Cup Final in Uruguay. They are not, however, the only ones. There is an ongoing record of other suicides committed by football fans.


The fan speaks of his team using the 1st person plural.


Only the fan knows the whole truth about his team. Only he has the right to know it. Rafat is convinced about this and he shows it in his monologue. But it can be observed in his defi ant gestures, his resolute manner of walking, in his serious face and the dark look in his eyes.

Maradona is not just a football prodigy, a national hero and superstar

Many football experts, as well as many famous footballers consider Maradona the greatest player of all times. His sporting genius is beyond doubt, as is his incredible popularity in Argentina, where it is closely associated with the country’s notorious economic and political crises. He was looked upon as a messenger sent by God to bring comfort to his long-suff ering compatriots. At the same time Maradona is known for his alcohol problem and cocaine addiction, his illegitimate children; he is overweight and generally in poor health caused by a self-destructive way of life; he has declared support for several dictators and was in his best days involved in a number of on-field brawls. There is even a pseudo-religion and a self-proclaimed Church of Maradona. Probably it is that very contradictory nature of his personality that has made him an object of interest to some well-known creative artists, resulting in several large-scale documentaries about him, including one by Emir Kusturica. Paolo Sorrentino features him in his film Youth, where the footballer’s character emerges in a mixture between the grotesque an undoubted admiration for his talent.

What is most closely related to his presence in Firas Khouri’s Maradona’s Legs is his symbolic significance for the downtrodden. Maradona comes from a very poor family. His tenure in Napoli made it the first southern Italian team to win the national championship. For the Neapolitans he became a divine figure, and the celebrations after this triumph lasted for a week. These were not merely festivities marking a great football victory but rather a glorification of “Southern Might” which had defeated “The North”, that is, the rich and privileged industrialists. This was not due only to his captainship but, as experts asserted, to his truly extraordinary skill. Argentina too, beset as it was at the time by internal and international political problems, triumphed over stable and rich Germany and won the World Cup in 1986.

Maradona holds left, anti-American, antiimperialist views. In spite of his turbulent personal life, his charisma at that period extended across the whole world and not just its football stadiums. It’s not surprising that Lothar Matthäus, ranked in the second place, lagged far behind, even though in 1990 it was Germany who won the World Cup. The fi gure of Maradona can therefore be treated as a sign with quite a complex, nuance-rich referent.

Sign of Absence

For me, the most powerful and original element of the film is its title, its layers of meaning and its presence throughout the whole work. The title tickles the curiosity but there is also the effect of the coveted completion of the album: “only” Maradona’s legs, the sticker with the player’s lower half (its visual aspect is no less important), the rarest among all the stickers and the most valuable one as no one has managed to acquire it, even though they may have bought tens of the stickers on sale. It is the one missing element the boys need in order to feel happy. That is why it is the sign most directly and painfully referable to the Palestinian situation. It might seem at first sight that these two brothers, in a manner so touching and at the same time amusing, are looking just for an album sticker. But when the voice of the Intifada interrupts the football commentary and although the boys receive what it says in silence and never respond, it becomes obvious that it is not only the sticker they are missing but a normal, peacetime childhood. So, on the symbolic level of signification, this absence is cruel and almost impossible to bear: how does one live without their legs?

The Visual Medium

The visual medium in the fi lm is predominantly the authentic one of a Palestinian village. But even that aspect is not devoid of humour. The flags perched on the houses show a highly charged, even comic “footballed” atmosphere. The interior of the car in which Rafat and Fadel get a lift is like an altar to Argentina. By contrast, the boys’ room is a temple of football Brazil and they retreat into it invariably wearing that team’s kits. The bedsheets are yellow, the walls are green, decorated with a football pitch and a huge fi gure of a player. All of this is slightly larger than life, of course, but the mixture of realism and humour is highly effective.

Oh, people in the Occupied lands”

At fi rst sight, Maradona’s Legs presents a slice of the life of two very young fans in the 1990s, done with a great dose of humour. The main and secondary characters are all children, with the adults making only an episodic appearance. The topic is football. Yet, as early as in frame 12-13, we realize that the action is set in a Palestinian village or neighbourhood occupied by Israel. The whole political context inherent in the setting floods the space of the film, just like the fighters forcing their voices onto the radio air. From that moment on all signs of the world of football take on the additional function as signs within the history of the struggle for independence. Maradona’s missing legs turn into a sign for the acute lack of national identity and human rights, an absence that does not allow the Palestinians to exist as complete social beings and threatens their lives. The World Championship moves on with its victories and losses, while, on the one hand, the viewer sees the features that compose the image of a football fan and at the same time, through the children’s discourse of fanhood (verbal, visual and actional), understands what love for one’s homeland is. Rafat’s monologue in Nazareth is the climax of the search on the level of discourse for a defi nition of national belonging. The boys’ sacrificing of the coveted prize in the name of the symbols of the national teams is an active expression of the belief that the dignity of the nation cannot be bought. The visual football symbolism is a sign of the absent Palestinian state which has no right to a national flag.

And when, as the credit titles roll down, we hear the song of the rebellion, we, the viewers, have already experienced the conflict in its human dimensions and we know that in an occupied land the topic of independence and national identity is existential and not only political.


Barthes, Rolаnd. A Lover’s Discourse. Fragments. Translated by Richard Howard.

New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.

Maradona’s Legs. Dir. Firas Khoury. Germany/Palestine, 2019.



Yoanna Dimova,

American University in Bulgaria

Abstract: Beyond the Tide, Mum’s Hairpins and Skin are three short films focused on close human relationships. The quotidian nature of these relationships enables the viewer to

become more than a mere observer and engage in the story by relating to the characters. Films have frequently been thought of as a way to escape reality; however, the topics that these short films address create an intimacy with the viewer that conventional full-length feature films often lack. Furthermore, the motif of death is prominent in the three films and serves a very important role – to connect the spectator with the filmic text. Death is a very sensitive topic and in such intimate films it is used not only with a great sensitivity but also used as the trigger for the development or resolution of the events in the storyline.

Key words: death, loss, filmic text, viewers, intimacy, short film

A work of art is a complex communication. Sergei Eisenstein, the great Soviet director and film theorist, writes that

Art is a construction which serves to embody the author’s relation to the content, at the same time compelling the spectator to relate himself to the content in the same way. (qtd. in Bailey 173)

Short films, for themselves, are also a very compact work of art. They could combine all other arts in one fi nely balanced product – music, moving pictures, dance, acting, cinematography, dialogue, mise-en-scene, composition.

Art is a creative process. To refer to Eisenstein again, “A work of art, understood dynamically, is just this process of arranging images in the feelings and mind of the spectator.” The spectator should be “drawn into the process as it occurs” (183). There is no straightforward formula on how a short fi lm should be made, but every artwork as such should bring change in the emotional state of the spectator. The spectator is “drawn into a creative act in which his individuality is not subordinated to the author’s” (qtd. in Bailey 183) According to Prague Structuralist Roman Jakobson, in the process of viewing art spectators create a certain image in their heads; an image that was planned and created by the author himself or herself, but at the same time created by the spectators in correspondence with their own individualities and his own characters (qtd. in Bailey 183-184).

The films analyzed below all have one thing in common – the pervasive presence of death. The deaths in the three shorts are sudden and tragic. In Beyond the Tide we encounter the death of a child, though, significantly, this death is never represented; in Mum’s Hairpins – the death of a mother and her daughter at the hands of the Nazis is brutal and shocking and in Skin – the death of the father is completely unexpected. The fact that the deaths are all of family members makes the films immediately relatable in one sense. They place the characters in very intricate situations and causes them to experience diverse states of mind. At some point in one’s life, people inevitably experience the death of their closest family members and thus the spectators can relate more easily to the feelings and emotions that come along with the psychological processes that the protagonists of the films undergo. Beyond the Tide is a psychological film, with the journey that the father goes through being very specific. However, whether one has gone through a coma or not, one can relate to the nostalgia, to the pain. Skin portrays a neo-Nazi family with which it may be hard to sympathize, if one does not hold the same views, but the killing of one’s own father is disastrous however one looks at it. Mum’s Hairpins is a dreamlike short film that is set in the past, making it hard for the younger generation to relate to the actual events. Nevertheless, simply the idea of losing one’s mother and sister is devastating and especially so if their deaths is the result of the brutality of real people and real events from history. These films are very different in their aesthetics, but what the filmic text does to the audience – making them feel emotions, and in the way it does, by means of the representation of death – creates similarities.These similarities, together with certain other characteristics of the short films, bring the viewer intimacy. These characteristics are concerned with the length of the fi lms. In the shorts, we can see a smaller number of events compared to those in feature-length films. However, in the short fi lms the spotlight is on the detail, which constructs the whole storyline. The conversations, the actions of the characters, almost every shot – all of this is carefully chosen and timed, so that when the short fi lm is screened, the viewer can get the sense of a complete or an almost complete story told in a limited time frame. Since the story unfolds in such a short time, there are usually some particular gaps in the story – that is, the story is condensed. In accordance with this logic, shorts should differ greatly from the classical narrative three-part structure: exposition, confl ict and resolution. However, Skin and Mum’s Hairpins seem to follow it despite having a limited time frame. Beyond the Tide is diff erent, because everything that is happening in the film takes place in the head of the main male character. Its temporal scheme is different: it may not even be linear, since it is a product of the character’s unconscious.

 Beyond the Tide addresses the problem of being able to let go. The father, imprisoned in his own bad conscience, has to overcome the death of his daughter. He is in a coma and close to losing his own life. The experience of his daughter’s death is the cause of his state and therefore he has to accept death and forgive himself in order to wake up from the coma and so save himself from dying. The film shows its audience a way to deal with a tragic loss, to deal with trauma and death by accepting it and not running away from truth. The representation of death in this film challenges people not only to identify with the characters and their pain, but also to re-experience the loss of a loved one. Coming to terms with your own fears and inner confl icts – this is what the film signifi es. Death as an experience becomes the link between the filmic text and the spectator.

In Mum’s Hairpins, after the tragic death of his family, the little boy, Yasha, is left with a small box of hairpins. Set in the Second World War, the film portrays the brutal murder of Yasha’s family by Nazi soldiers and Yasha’s last and only chance to escape. He does so by making a small gift – the Nazi symbol, the Swastika, out of the mother’s hairpins. Yasha associates the hairpins with his mother and the intimacy of pitting cherries with her in the summer. They come to signify something much dearer to him after the death of his mother and sister. The only thing he is left with from his family when he manages to escape is his mother’s hairpins. They cannot fully substitute the figure of the dead mother, but they are the only thing through which the boy can still feel her by his side, in a sense, and carry her memory within him. Towards the end of the fi lm, we see how he cries when he makes the Swastika out of the hairpins. He gives the Swastika to one of the German invaders as a sign of subordination in order to let him pass. Yasha has to sacrifice the only thing that reminds him of his mother in order to save his own life and escape death.

Years after that, the family he has built uses the same method of taking out cherry pits with hairpins – he has found a way to keep her close to his heart and cherish her memory by turning the action into a family tradition. Despite the loss of his mother and the loss of the only thing that is left from her, he fi nds a way to keep her spirit alive.

Second World War films usually show its brutality and violence, but in this one the screenwriter and the director have accentuated the topic of how people deal with the tragic loss of their families and how could one move on with such hardships in their lives. You can move on in spite of losing someone you love and you can keep the memory of them alive by means of a simple tradition. Again, death forms a link between the filmic text and the spectator.

Skin starts with the portrayal of a white American family. The opening scene shows the father shaving the head of his young son. The skinhead haircut, the father’s tattoos and the diegetic music all indicate that this is a white supremacist or neo-Nazi family. After a day out for shooting practice, on the way home the fa mily stops at a supermarket where violence erupts and the father gets into confrontation with a black man who was behaving in a friendly manner towards his son. The beating of the black man marks the beginning of the race war in the film: White against Black. A group of black men abduct the white father and tattoo his skin entirely black. The black gang drop him off by his home late at night; the son does not recognize him because of the change of his skin color and so he shoots him dead. Here, the fi lm signifi es something far more complex than the war of the races. Although it is concerned with the issues around racism and of how people should not be divided or judged because of their skin color, the second part of the message is about the raising of your children. How you bring up your children, what moral principles and traditions should be embedded in their personalities, what lessons are you teaching your children as a parent – these are very important questions that the film poses to its audience.

A father is a role model for his son, but by teaching him to divide others based on skin color and accept people of color as the enemy, he turns his own son into his enemy and his lessons into the cause of his own death. Death here is used to shock the viewers and provoke them to think of the consequences of racism and of the consequent bad bringing-up, of what parents should teach their children. The spectators are left with the experience of that sudden traumatic death, which again serves as a link between them and the filmic text.

Eisenstein claims that “the fi lmic image is not primarily an index of reality to be used to represent that reality; it is a bundle rich in material which can be made to signify through the structuration of meaning-forming oppositions” (qtd. in Bailey 185). The three films do not try to represent a fixed reality, a reality based on certainty and so they leave it to the viewers to create their own meanings by making them feel diverse emotions. The essence of cinema is not to show, but to create meaning. 


Bailey, Richard William, Ladislav Matejka and Peter Steiner (eds.). The Sign: Semiotics Around the World. Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Contributions, 1978.

Beyond the Tide, Dirs. Ingo Monitor and Jan Mocka, 2018.

Mum’s Hairpins, Dir. Tatiana Fedorovskaya, Ukraine-Russia-Germany, 2019.

Skin, Dir. Guy Nattiv, USA, 2018.