Review: Vis-a-Vis

Premise:

While throwing a booze fuelled party during the pandemic, a young man is haunted by the suspicion that something happened to the old lady across the street – and he might be responsible for it.

Review:

While we are on the other side of lockdown restrictions (at least for now) the memories of being confined to our homes and separated from loved ones is still very fresh in our minds. A key fixture in those memories are the news reports of people breaking lockdown rules, from students and neighbours, right on through to the highest levels of government. Emile Schlesser, a filmmaker who has displayed a unique ability to humanise characters we would normally automatically condemn, takes on a story about this very issue, morally demystifying without justifying those who railed against the very real impact of being isolated.


Vis-à-Vis, Emile Schlesser’s third short film as director and fourth as writer follows our unnamed protagonist, a young and carefree bachelor, played by Tommy Schlesser (Emile’s brother) living a social life in total contravention of lockdown rules. His constant hosting of his circle of friends is something of an open secret in his building and has not escaped the attention of the elderly lady living across the street. As our protagonist hosts another get together, we get an insight into the mindsets and justifications of people who refuse to take the lockdown rules seriously.


Schlesser does not present these people as misunderstood. There is some very conscious rule breaking and generous helpings of denial amongst a group of intelligent people, clearly aware of the risks they are taking. This is demonstrated to the point where they actually debate whether or not they should be meeting at all. There is a very interesting and well composed social dynamic at play, with the film’s protagonist ultimately prevailing as the dominant influence. We are even treated to something that boarders on an understandable motivation, as the protagonist speaks of losing a family member who had to pass away separated from family.


The story takes full flight when the protagonist and his group of friends, including one person who is duped into thinking everyone has tested negative, begin to ramp up the tension as any subterfuge of playing by the rules gradually slips away, inviting consequences for all of them. The natural chemistry between the cast really sells the camaraderie, which slowly gives way to conflict. This is backed up by a cinema verité visual style with Schlesser and DP Sven Ulmerich, opting for a 4:3 aspect ratio, which in the high-spirited moments evokes 8mm film capturing the best moments of young and care-free life.


This style works particularly well when events take a darker turn, and the group is forced to reckon with the consequences of their actions. Tommy Schlesser does well to embody a likeable character whose desires and motivations are in direct opposition to the morality of the audience. As his flouting of lockdown rules and the growing anxiety of potentially having caused something terrible to happen finally come into contact with one another, Tommy Schlesser does a fantastic job of projecting conflict-driven fear with director/brother Emile not afraid to invade his personal space and show us every inch of his discord.


While the moral message of the story could not be clearer, Vis-à-Vis does a great job of creating character complexity, which in turn delivers ideological conflict and drama with real world stakes. By taking this road, Schlesser gives us a solid morality tale without preaching and a quarter of an hour of great short film.


Studio: Filmreakter Quickies | Year: 2021 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 17 Mins | Suitability: Mature


Cast:

Tommy Schlesser, Sophie Mousel, Timo Wagner, Julie Kieffer, Konstantin Rommelfangen


Crew:

Director: Emile Schlesser | Producer: Emile Schlesser | Writer: Emile Schlesser


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