Future Frames Review: Blackjack
by Laurence Boyce
- Lora Mure-Ravaud’s award-winning short plays with genre and audience expectation and is set to screen at Karlovy Vary 2018 within the EFP’s Future Frames programme
The world of mainstream cinema leaves little to the imagination – everything is fully explained (usually several times over) and haplessly put on show, with a helping of CGI so generous it could easily feed a small nation for a decade. The power of shorts is that they can survive without the constant need for exposition. They can be about the gaps. The small things that seem of little import yet have seismic effects on how we live our lives. Lora Mure-Ravaud’s Blackjack (Valet Noir) seems to exist at the intersection of two different films of which we don’t know the plot or much about the characters. But in this coming together of multiple narrative and personalities, a new space is briefly created and a moment in time is shared.
Leila (Sophie Demeyer, whose performance is subtle yet compelling) works as a croupier in a hotel, where she also lives. With her androgynous look and her job in a predominantly male environment, Leila’s background is the source of much intrigue, but our lead has no interest in satisfying curiosity. Staying at the same hotel, in the room next-door to Leila, is Camil (Hamza Meziani), apparently involved in some sort of criminal activity. The two exchange stolen glances and furtive looks, and when a certain situation brings them closer together, their mutual attraction inevitably boils over.
At first, Mure-Ravaud seems to delight in wrong-footing the audience. With Leila’s undisguised androgyny, and one scene in particular which hints at her malaise at being identified as feminine (she bristles when described as ‘…the prettiest woman at the bar’), we wonder whether we might be watching a film about gender and identity. But then, when Camil walks down the street and throws a mysterious something into a rubbish bin, we wonder whether we’re watching a crime thriller. The casino setting, meanwhile, is redolent of the heist movie. As if some form of ‘Schrodinger’s Movie’, Blackjack is at once all these things and none of them. The lid on the box remains firmly closed.
In some ways the film is itself a reflection on watching a film. When Leila and Camil finally come together, they share a brief moment of passion and understanding between them, where no words are uttered. The same can be said of a film and its audience – we happen upon a moment in other people’s lives, and we wordlessly share this moment of life with those characters on screen. Then we each move along and continue with our lives, never to feel the same initial spark again. Certainly, as Leila and Camil leave each other there is an air of finality – each are going back to play their individual roles in their respective stories.
Léo Lefèvre’s cinematography emphasises a certain sense of disconnection, with characters constantly shrouded in darkness or placed at the very back of the frame. Even the liberating moment of Leila and Camil’s meeting is muddied by close ups and dim light. It creates a sense of transgression, as if the characters know they’re overstepping the boundaries set by fate but are determined to break free nonetheless.
Blackjack has already garnered a few plaudits, including Best Swiss Short at the 2017 edition of Winterthur, and it’s continuing to prove popular. But its screening at the European Film Promotion’s Future Frames programme at Karlovy Vary should win it a few more fans, because Mure-Ravaud is clearly one to watch in directorial terms, with her brilliantly playful and thought-provoking work and her perfect use of the short form.
For more information on Blackjack, click here.
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