Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Storekeeper

The Storekeeper
Directed by: Gavin Hood
South Africa, 22mins

*Sorry I don't have a clip of the film. It is part of the special features of Gavin Hood's 2005 Academy Award's Best Foreign Film, Tsotsi.

The Storekeeper follows an elderly man in South Africa who lives in isolation and happens to own a small store. This man encounters problems with a thief and as a result he sets up a trap with a shotgun, in hopes of stopping the thief.
Gavin Hood uses his film to comment on the escalating violence in South Africa and how people go about protecting themselves. What lengths are people willing to go to protect themselves in times of need? And what situations allow them to take this protection into their own hands. Is this man allowed to fight back against the thief in the ways he did? Could he have done something different and would that have helped?

I find this film particularly intriguing because of its use of zero dialogue. The only sounds are ambient with minimal music coming from the storekeeper’s radio. The film feels vacant without dialogue but does not subtract from the overall quality. The lack of dialogue enhances the man’s isolation at an elderly age and forces the audience to interpret his actions. Also, the lack of dialogue allows an audience of any language to view the film and have the full effect without loss during translation or obnoxious dubbing.

The Storekeeper also addresses the psychological affects violence has on humans. How does taking our protection into our own hands affect us psychologically? Especially the extreme measures that this man went to by rigging a shotgun. The gun is a very important symbol in this film. In some ways it speaks to the violence of South Africa but it also speaks to the man becoming desensitized to anger. By purchasing the gun the man is turning into the violence that he is trying to protect his store from. And in the end, without giving away the story, one can see the anguish on the man’s face when he realizes what he has actually done. One scene that is particularly important for this is when you see the man sleeping with the gun. The gun has become a part of him and he needs it near him to feel safe. That in it self is an “ugly” image that points to his transition of innocence to violence.

The lighting in this film is also phenomenal. Overall it has a very warm tone with lots of harsh shadows. The lighting makes every scene as important as the rest and allows the audience to focus on the characters because it illuminates their eyes. You can see into the characters souls, as they are the main focus of the shot. Another technique that is found in this film to help create its atmosphere is the editing. Hood takes the audience from wide angles to show the loneliness of the character and then jumps to extreme close-ups. These close-ups provide the audience the opportunity to witness the intensity of the characters emotion.

The thing that makes this film successful for me is the simplicity of it. Yes, the lighting editing, sound, and cinematography are all-important and add to the overall feel. But they are all simple things that when put together create a great film. I was assured of my feelings when reading Adrian Martin’s article “The Seconds Pile Up.” In this article Martin says, “One temptation is overkill, an excess of what I think of as ornamentation: every angle, sound effect, acting gesture cranked up to the max in a frenetic, blazing, five minute montage. I suspect that the real challenge of the short film is to know when not to throw in another cut . . . when to trust a certain understatement or minimalism.”

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