Inspired by the director’s own “creative crisis”, Andzej Gavriss’ 25 minute short ELEUSIS takes its audience on a nightmarish journey through a cult-like sanitorium where struggling artists go to drink bulls urine and rediscover their talent. A film of incredible production values and featuring a couple of truly mesmerising dance sequences, ELEUSIS is set to be one of the most original and memorable shorts we feature on S/W in 2021.
At over 20 minutes in length, ELEUSIS is what we’d classify as a “long short” here at S/W, but Gavriss’ film doesn’t waste any of that runtime with unnecessary padding or showboating. Immersing you in its storyline instantly, within the opening two minutes you’ve been introduced to the musician at the centre of its story, witnessed the downward spiral threatening to ruin his career and been presented with a solution to his crisis – in the form of the mysterious, titular sanitorium. We talk a lot about the importance of a strong opening in the world of online short and ELEUSIS has it nailed.
Over the next 23 minutes, the pace does lessen somewhat, but Gavriss gives you just enough space to breathe, as our senses are overloaded with the oddities of this strange rehab programme. From the aforementioned drinking of bull’s urine (inspired by an ancient Eleusinian ritual) to the role of Dio and his trio of oversized assistants, the intrigue is maddening and when combined with the incredible attention to detail in the production you don’t dare look away for a second in fear of missing something. And I haven’t even touched on those incredible dance sequences yet.
From Hal Hartley to Buffalo ’66, Ex Machina and fellow S/W pick Shadow Animals, I have a bit of thing for unexpected dance sequences in films and though the choreographed routines in ELEUSIS don’t feel as out of place as some of those previous examples, they add a certain flair to proceedings, highlighting the directorial confidence of Gavriss in his vision. They also work strongly in strengthening the ritualistic feel of the “treatment” at the sanitorium, if the first dance sequence catches you somewhat off-guard, by the time the second arrives you are much more accustomed to it, feeling a part of the ELEUSIS family – one of its children.
Storytelling is very much our focus here on S/W and though Gavriss’ short wears its influences on its sleeve, it also manages to be a very distinct piece when it comes to narrative. However, to talk about the film and not delve into that glorious production would be a crime. Quizzing the filmmaker about his aesthetic, Gavriss openly shared what he describes as the “ELEUSIS bible” (a series of documents plotting the finer details – cast, wardrobe, design etc – of the film) with me and my assumptions on the level of planning that must have gone into the shoot were confirmed.
From the impact of fashion and music (the lead’s rehab outfit is very Kurt Cobain) on the wardrobe choice to the influence of Fincher on the colour palette, it’s clear the director and his production designer Julija Fricsone Gavriss had a clear picture of how they wanted their film to look and worked tirelessly to make it happen. Compromises occurred, of course, but even when things changed and the original vision couldn’t be fulfilled, the choices made all seemed to work in favour of the film – Dio’s assistant for example was originally pictured as a character much like ‘The Mountain’ from Game of Thrones, but casting brothers Dmitriy, Yuriv and Andrey Ostapenko instead was a real masterstroke and you can’t imagine the film without them.
With a string of Staff Picked videos to his name on Vimeo, Gavriss is a filmmaker we’ve had an eye on for a while now and with ELEUSIS released online, without any prior knowledge of it from our team, we’re excited to finally feature his work on our platform. Soon to release a film supporting LGBTQ rights in Russia (a piece he describes as “the most challenging and important project” he’s worked on so far), this is a filmmaker we expect big things from in the future.