The Oscar shortlisted short film Stutterer begins with a tight extreme close up of a man’s mouth as he attempts to speak on the phone about an issue with a bill. The man’s speech impediment is insufferable, but his thoughts are lush and elegant.
The man, Greenwood (Matthew Needham), works–understandably–best with the written word. He has a flourishing online relationship with a woman, where they trade off witty remarks on Facebook. He works as a typographer, and minor issues involving speaking on the phone have to be handled by his father.
What results is a lonely existence for Greenwood. His one chance at a fully formed relationship is compromised by the simple invitation to meet his online date in person.
The film itself is simple. There isn’t anything wholly out of the ordinary with the shot choices, save for the opening shot and some purposefully jarring cuts.
Instead it is the melancholic fly-on-the-wall observation of a man suffering from muteness that leads the film. The quiet piano plunking in the background is as humble and whispering as Greenwood’s inner monologue. When Greenwood’s thoughts become anxious, the piano score is nearly imperceptible, and the overlapping voiceovers instill a similar anxiety in the viewer. The effect is isolating and spot on.
What this film lacks in cinematic ingenuity it makes up for in its case study of silence. Needham is the film, and it is his internal voice and emoting eyes that hold the film together. Like the mind of its protagonist, Stutterer is elegant in its quiet nature.
Stutterer is currently one of 10 live action short films on the shortlist for an Academy Award nomination. The list will be narrowed down to five finalists when the Academy announces its 2016 nominations on Jan. 14.
The shortlisted films are as follows:
- “Ave Maria,” Basil Khalil, director, and Eric Dupont, producer (Incognito Films)
- “Bad Hunter,” Sahim Omar Kalifa, director, and Dries Phlypo, producer (A Private View)
- “Bis Gleich (Till Then),” Philippe Brenninkmeyer, producer, and Tara Lynn Orr, writer (avenueROAD Films)
- “Contrapelo (Against the Grain),” Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, director, and Pin-Chun Liu, producer (Ochenta y Cinco Films)
- “Day One,” Henry Hughes, director (American Film Institute)
- “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut),” Patrick Vollrath, director (Filmakademie Wien)
- “The Free Man (Zi You Ren),” Quah Boon-Lip, director (Taipei National University of the Arts)
- “Shok,” Jamie Donoughue, director (Eagle Eye Films)
- “Stutterer,” Benjamin Cleary, director (Bare Golly Films)
- “Winter Light,” Julian Higgins, director, and Josh Pence, producer (Innerlight Films and Prelude Pictures)
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)