What? A Vin Diesel short film? I know what you think, this is a cheap traffic grab, coinciding with today’s opening of Fast Five in theaters. Hey, I won’t pretend that the timing is accidental, but for all you cineastes and snobs who don’t respect Vin Diesel, you need to check your biases at the door—Multi-Facial is an AWESOME short film.
As a struggling actor in the early 90’s, Vin Diesel couldn’t get any jobs. So he went in a time-honored direction for out-of-work thespians—he made his own film. It was a pretty successful move too. The film played Cannes in 1995, and based largely on the impression the short made upon Steven Spielberg, Diesel was able to land his star-making role in Saving Private Ryan.
Written, directed and starring Vin, Multi-Facial is substantially auto-biographical, as the 18min short film serves as a meta-commentary on Diesel’s attempts to break into the biz. The title is a play on words; Multi-Facial=Multi-Racial, and the plot is comprised mainly of Diesel going to acting auditions and failing to be considered for gigs due to not meeting some form of type-casting criterion. Coming from an Italian/Black ethnic background Diesel finds himself at the distinct disadvantage of not being dark enough, or gangsta enough, or guido enough for whatever role he auditions for. Despite his impressive musculature, Diesel desires to be taken seriously, and tries to impress with his range and commitment to the craft. Ultimately, to his frustration, he finds that casting directors of commercials and music videos don’t rate such ambitions very highly.
A fascinating look at tribulations of a struggling actor, Multi-Facial is also an impressive piece of filmmaking. The film begins with a cold open monologue. Just like a real audition, you know very little, but Vin is flexing his skill for you, wanting, trying to impress. You don’t see the casting folk, so in a way Vin is auditioning for us, wanting to wow you into having interest in the film. But at the same time, that’s not actually the goal, the camera is off to the side, the performance directed offscreen. It is a clever shot, the absence of the clients makes it as if Diesel is performing for us, however the framing of the shot establishes us instead as flies on the wall, getting documentary access to events within the story.
This is not an isolated moment. Each of the individual set pieces has its own humor and raison d’etre. Told he isn’t dark enough for a Black roles, Vin IS brown enough to be Hispanic. He’s sent to audition for a role, but doesn’t speak Spanish. He references Pacino multiple times in the film, usually complaining that Pacino wouldn’t do a commercial, or a soap, but thrown into this scene that he is superficially right for, but has no background in, he is reduced to comic outlandishness, aping Pacino circa Scarface.
The closing audition is unexpectedly emotional, and effortlessly, organically, concludes the themes built up throughout the film. A great showcase for Diesel, the film works amazingly well cinematically, making it one of the great short films on acting ever made.