A fantastic short film. Works that take top national prizes (like Oscar, César) are undeniably polished, but often staid, conforming to a very dated idea of “prestige drama”. The Last Time I Saw Richard, Nicolas Verso’s AACTA-winning short film from last year shares some similarities (most notably its 22min runtime), but in others is very fresh. How many genres can one fit into a film? It’s a coming-of-age drama about bullying and mental health with GLBT elements that celebrates the power of friendship, and, oh yeah, throws in incredibly well realized DEMONS. It’s a stuffed premise that fortunately makes a lot more sense than that run-on sentence just did.
The supernatural element might bring viewers in, but the strength of the film is the relationship between Jonah and Richard, played by Toby Wallace and Cody Fern. Jonah terrorizes the other teens at the clinic, but of course he’s there too, harboring damage of his own. Confronted with the arrival of Richard and his blank, but intense facade, Jonah’s curiosity overcomes his nastiness, and as he digs deeper, a bond forms.
In his director’s note, Verso explains that he has a desire to “explore ideas of male friendships, and the difficulties involving with expressing certain feelings or emotions surrounding intimacy and connection.” The method he chooses is that of a “shared hallucination” the hint of horror-fantasy that disrupts reality and allows an audience to peer into character’s emotional states. The vulnerabilities this opens up are powerful. Both Jonah and Richard display very hard exteriors to the world, but when Jonah climbs into bed with Richard after a nocturnal attack, the reality of the two lonely boys shines through, and provides the GLBT tensions that undergird the relationship but are never made explicit.
Similarly to Ryan Koo with Amateur, the film has been designed as a prequel to a feature project called Boys in the Trees, which continues the story of Jonah two years into the future. With two features under his belt already, Verso is an extremely motivated film talent, and this short is quite the accomplishment. In America, 2014 was the year of short to feature jumps, with Whiplash and Obvious Child leading the way, here’s hoping Verso can continue the trend into 2015.