Updated: Mar 3, 2022
A young man with Down syndrome, stakes on a superhero identity to muster the courage to profess his love to a childhood friend.
Returning to (and expanding on) the theme of lost connection, Emile Schlesser and Fabien Colas re-team after their 2015 collaboration Roxy for another deeply affecting, character-driven and visually stunning short film experience. This time Schlesser takes the director’s chair with Colas producing Schlesser’s screenplay about childhood friends Max (Nico Randel) and Tess (Maria Dragus) who have become more and more distant over time until Tess’ impending departure to New York compels Max to reconnect and confess long-held feelings for her.
The premise alone puts a gaping chasm between them, with Tess being socially popular, taking advantage of her youth and suburban lifestyle and Max showing up at Tess’ going away house party dressed as a superhero. In a very stark way, Max is a living, breathing reminder of a part of Tess that she is leaving behind. Without explicitly stating it, we are given the impression that Tess is intentionally cutting herself off from the parts of her life that require her to feel obligation. Tess intends to immerse herself in the carefree vigour of youth and leave behind anything that she has to put before herself. This desire is not driven by selfishness but the exhaustion of being a caring and protective person especially when young.
The film presents Max with not just care but awareness, to the point of subverting the expectations of the audience. His Down syndrome triggers the innate part of our minds that tell us to feel sympathy or to regard him as vulnerable or fragile, a sentiment encapsulated early on as a group of rowdy guys unapologetically barge past him, forcing him to drop a plant he had brought as a gift for Tess. As the story progresses, we begin to understand that Max’s Down syndrome alongside his dressing up as a superhero are tools that he uses to see the world in a unique way and empower him to stand firm and speak up in ways that many of us are afraid to.
Dragus and Randel are a huge part of what makes the film so memorable. Dragus becomes a physical manifestation of suppressed conflict, juggling her desire to lose herself in her lack of responsibility and being unable to ignore the part of her conscience that requires her be where she is needed. We see the guilt, affection, attraction and horror that she experiences through a subtle yet powerfully expressive performance. Additionally, Randel allows himself to be completely open in front of the camera, enabling an intimate connection between himself and the audience. Such a naked display of affection and earnestness from Randel makes Max irrevocably endearing and ensures that we fully invest in his mission to revive his bond with Tess.
The dynamics and implied histories of these two friends make for an emotional and engrossing character journey. Like Roxy, Superhero takes its characters across vast emotional distances in a short space of time. Also, like Roxy, this film manages to pace itself so well that this journey does not feel rushed. This is in no small part due to Schlesser (once again wearing multiple hats as director, writer, editor and music composer) combining the pace set in the editing room with his eye for dream-like imagery and drawing out key moments of decision or realisation, allowing the audience to embed themselves in the moment while not ballooning the runtime.
Schlesser’s collaboration with director of photography Joel Froome proves fruitful as this film boasts some stunning images (some of which are on display in the trailer). Schlesser’s score compliments these dream-like images so exquisitely that the final result is arresting in a way that keeps your mind held captive long after the credits roll.
This is a deeply personal film built on moments of powerful emotional depth. Schlesser reminds us of his ability to create personal narratives and frame them in imagery that feeds the soul, once again presenting an experience you won’t want to miss.
Studio: Kite Rock Pictures | Year: 2020 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 13 Mins | Suitability: Mature
Maria Dragus, Nico Randel, Jannik Schümann
Director: Emile Schlesser | Producer: Fabien Colas | Writer: Emile Schlesser
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