Greek newcomer Jacqueline Lentzou’s 3rd short film “Fox” is a vividly somber and haunting coming of age story that was pitched at the Short Film Station of the 2015 Berlinale Talents before going on to screen in the “Pardi di domani” section at this year’s Locarno Film Festival (where it won the best International Short Film Award according to the Cinema & Gioventù Jury for the aforementioned section) and in the Short Film Competition program at the 22nd Sarajevo Film Festival. It will soon screen at the Drama International Short Film Festival.
A single mother of three is getting ready to spend a day out with who appears to be her boyfriend, much to the disappointment, disapproval and chagrin of her eldest son Stephanos with whom she has an argument right before leaving the house – an argument that leaves her very distraught. While this is happening, the two younger siblings are reading books next to their sickly dog, Lucy. What none of them knows is that their lives are about to be disrupted irreversibly and that this was their last day of carefree fun.
Right from the start, Lentzou makes a tacit agreement with her audience – as the mother is driving along a dangerous road, visibly distressed, to the tune of David Bowie’s “Modern Love”, we know exactly how this scene is going to end… But, more importantly, we are the only ones who explicitly do as we watch the children, back at the house, innocently enjoying themselves, jumping and dancing, sunbathing and playing with water in the summer daze, occasionally interrupted by the ringing of the phone that nobody picks up. With the sudden cut, we are fully aware that this is Stephanos’ last day of freedom and carefree youth, grown-up responsibilities looming around the corner. Paradise is lost and “age” will come in a flash.
In that sense, Lentzou flawlessly builds up the suspense in “Fox” by nimbly manipulating time (the events in the house and the car crash are happening simultaneously) and presenting us the actions of the family in a life/death dichotomy in which the scenes are suggestively amplified by airplane sounds and moving moments of silence, but also through a contrast of the outdoor light scenes with the grim and dark interiors of the house. While the director is building the tension up, the audience is dreading the moment they already know – the experience is suffocating and claustrophobic, as we do not want to find out what we already know. The previously mentioned life/death dichotomy is also accompanied or rather juxtaposed to the dichotomy of the carefree mood and timelessness of the dancing and outdoor scenes with the sense of growing unease that is overshadowing the house and the audience’s anticipation heightened by the ringing of the phone. The carefully framed close-ups also help in the building of the suspense. But, even with all of this, one scene steals the show with its multi-level power – Stephanos catches and kills a fly while his sister reprimands him for his careless action. The power comes from the fact that this is happening at the same time of the mother’s death…
As far as the acting is concerned, Lentzou is at ease with her actors as she manages to get excellent performances out of all of them. Scenes of summer daze and laziness among pizza boxes and sprinkling water, dancing and adolescent love are magnificently captured in long and grainy shots, courtesy of Konstantinos Koukoulios and his remarkable crisp lensing and imagery that have masterfully created the feel of both airy ease and unease. His hand-held eye-level shots and bird-eye views, symbolic of the mother’s gaze still focused on her children, are also to be praised. The absence of a score intensifies the emotions and the tension but the meticulously chosen songs “People Who Died” by J. Carroll, “Mother” by John Lennon and the aforementioned “Modern Love” by David Bowie complement impeccably the film’s “silence”.
Lentzou has crafted a lyrical film on both visual and narrative levels, but also one that is highly skillfully and creatively structured. Indeed, she deftly manages to make us accessories to her intentions and her exploration of the mechanisms of remorse as well as the clever depiction of the unconscious anticipation of death coming straight from her gut and her heart. We don’t want to be there and we don’t want to hear the news we already know because we don’t want to go through it again; it feels absolutely real and heartbreaking. “Fox” is a harrowing and powerful short that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.
Production: Blonde S.A. in co-production with the Greek Film Centre (Greece 2016)
Producer: Fenia Cossovitsa
Director: Jacqueline Lentzou
Screenplay: Jacqueline Lentzou
Cinematography: Konstantinos Koukoulios
Music: The Boy
Production Design: Eva Goulakou
Costume design: Eva Goulakou
Editing: Smaro Papaevangelou
Cast: Nikos Zegkinoglou (Stephanos), Nota Tserniafski (The Mother), Katerina Zisoudi (The Girlfriend), Mihaela Holeza (Young Sister), Lyssandros Kouroubalis (Young Brother), Lisa (Lucy)
Color – 28 min.
Premiere: 07/08/2016 (Locarno Film Festival)