Sometimes, the most random interaction can slowly reveal itself as a deeply emotional event. One that can make you question what you believed to be true and even bring a sense of closure. For Daryl, the main character in today’s short Manicure, he is staying home, ignoring calls and trying to avoid going to his mother’s funeral, when he meets a woman who needs to use his phone. Could this innocuous interaction lead to greater implications? With Manicure, writer/director/editor Stephanie Ahn uses minimalist production and a simple premise to craft a moving and complex story of grief which subverts audience expectations.
Fresh from the finishing line of her previous short film (Eva), Ahn immediately felt like going back to set. Equipped with an extremely tight budget and a skeleton crew, she decided to come up with a project that could be shot quickly, in one single location. The challenge of creating a film with emotional depth on limited resources led her to the idea of exploring how a lack of communication can affect relationships. Conveying what Ahn describes as “complex emotions and relationships through simplicity”, Manicure delivers universal undertones to the specific situation her main character finds himself in.
At first sight, Daryl and the manicurist don’t have much in common, but I have to admit that I always enjoy watching an odd couple build a rapport on screen. From the awkwardness, that I usually find surprisingly pleasant to watch, to the trust that emerges as they slowly find common ground, it’s a compelling situation. Ahn makes sure to flesh out her characters, not only for the purpose of having them interact, but to ensure they both bring emotional baggage to the narrative. This suggested backstory lends their interaction more depth, while allowing the audience to appreciate its true importance in Daryl’s life.
The film also has an unexpected structure. The exposition very quickly introduces us to Daryl on the day of his mother’s funeral. We immediately grasp his emotional turmoil, sensing a fraught relationship with a lot of close-ups and sound design that captures his perspective. But when the manicurist arrives, all of a sudden, the audience gets a wider perspective, hearing and seeing what Daryl can’t. Knowing that something isn’t quite right in the situation only acts to captivate the audience more, as we know that a reveal is bound to happen, with some kind of a payoff.
Watching them talking and doing something as mundane as eating an ice cream is a moving experience, considering the situation Daryl finds himself in. Up until the reveal that is and although from our seats, we’re a little ahead of Daryl, the emotional weight still sinks in. Witnessing him as he comes to the realization that he might have been wrong about some things, and finally gets closure, is as satisfying for us, as it is relieving for him. As a parting gift, Ahn leaves you thinking about how misunderstandings in relationships could create a space where resentment can start to occupy. The film ends on a positive note however, proving that it is never too late to change that, even with the smallest gesture.
When not directing, Ahn also works as an editor on various projects, but is now currently working on her feature directorial debut. With a producer already attached and the lead role cast, she is in the financing stages of development.