by Afra Nariman
Director: Andrea Arnold
Stars: Natalie Press, Danny Dyer
Although featuring a runtime of only 26 minutes and taking place over just a single day, we get to not only know Zoe and her children, but understand them as well. The events of the day depicted in the film are presented to us as an anomaly. In other words, it’s clear that Zoe doesn’t go out often, she doesn’t go on dates, etc. While presented to us as if the events of the film are unlike their typical day, there is also a sense that everything shown to us is representative of Zoe’s circumstance in life generally. The emotional and psychological elements, the feelings of frustration, exhaustion, anxiety and restlessness are displayed in such a way that they don’t feel exclusive to the situation we see her in during the short period of the film; the feelings that we experience through Zoe don’t feel like one-and-done truths, even if the specific events in the film likely are.
The style of the film is also key in the effectiveness of its communication with us as the audience. Although featuring a style akin to minimalist realism, the cinematography is intentionally stylized to heighten the significance of each scene and the overall story being told. The use of close-ups to create an intimate, perhaps even claustrophobic setting is paramount to the film’s affect. Additionally, the use of rapid shot changes, short takes, and general editing decisions indicate that for Zoe, nothing can last more than just a few seconds because of how much she has to worry about as a single mother of four, struggling to get by.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how it explores the reality of a young, single mother living under an economic system that makes getting your basic needs met nearly impossible. Although in the last act, the film offers the opportunity to view Zoe as potentially selfish, Andrea Arnold paints with such a stroke of empathy that the thought of selfishness is not one that is truly considered by film’s end. Arnold’s empathetic approach, coupled with the film’s roots in realism, allow her to put on display difficult situations and Zoe’s thoughts and emotions in response to them without leading the viewer towards perceiving Zoe as selfish for simply wanting brief moments of freedom. Due to the empathy in Arnold’s approach, we too perceive through an empathetic lens, and thus Zoe is simply understood by us as being human. Everything she feels, we not only can feel, but do feel as well.
Like the first wasp of the film, patiently yet restlessly waiting on the window for someone to open the door and let it free, Zoe too is waiting for brief moments of freedom. Arnold shows us this predicament as an inevitable reality given the social, economic and political circumstances at play, without painting Zoe as selfish for wanting this freedom. Doing all of this over the course of a 26 minute film depicting the events of a single day is an incredible directorial feat.
MY RATING /5:
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