Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Day's Work

Czech Republic
13 minutes
Directed by Edward Feldman

Midway through the uneven collection that was Showcase 5 at DC Shorts, one film really put the audience in a stranglehold: the Czech short "A Day's Work." Shot in high contrast black and white, the film unravels with the slow, languid pace of a dream. It's beautiful, moving, and strangely funny. Based on the audience's reaction, it was clear by the end that almost everyone in the audience had found themselves under its unique spell.

The plot is as follows: A young woman is having a terrible day. Her babysitter bails out on her at the last minute so she must take her son to work, and then on top of that she misses her bus. When she arrives at work, we find that she has been hired for a one-time voiceover gig for an American film (the woman is Czech). A pompous director and his assistant (this humorous moment was certainly not lost on the industry-types in the audience) attempt to give her her motivation for the scene, but their efforts at communication are lost on the woman. When the men in the booth finally hit the record button, we see that the scene calls for the Czech woman to provide the voiceover for a woman who is crying hysterically. And then, in a haunting medium shot that lasts for an uncomfortably long amount of time, we watch the Czech woman let out all of her frustrations (many of which we have not seen in the digesis of the film and can only assume) and cry her eyes out. At the close of the film, she and her son begin their walk back home in the cold evening.

When compared with "A Day's Work", most of the other short in Showcase 5 felt like one-note films. This short has such a peculiar and unforgettable tone: it's simultaneously both funny and sad, and it's incredibly relatable. I had an incredible feeling of catharsis once the credits began to roll. Though it only spans about 13 minutes, the viewer has been on what feels like a much longer emotional journey with this woman, and once she has let her pain out through crying, we feel a release as well. The film is structured very effectively; it withholds information from the viewer (we never know where she's going or why she's going where she is until she gets there), but it pulls you by the hand and commands you to follow it wherever it's going, no questions asked.

1 comment:

Paul Klein said...


I felt exactly the way you described when watching Showcase #5. It was entirely uneven (I touched on this in my blog, which I think ended up running a little long), but there were a few saving graces, and "A Day's Work" definitely was one of them. This was such a beautiful short!

I think the concept; this really quiet comedy film where the central monologue, the great close up moment, is just a woman crying - whimpering, gasping, wailing. I think you say it well when you describe the audience in a trance, because I very much felt this way. The dialogue between the Americans was funny, but it was also uneasy, because the rest of the piece was so somber.

I also think that the withholding of information is an essential piece of good filmmaking, and the filmmakers did a great job here. What is she going to do at the end? Why is she smiling? Is she going to leave the country - the freight cars certainly give an emigration impression. What an interesting work. I'm glad you commented on this, as I felt it was very important. Thanks a lot!