Quadratura (2020) Short Film Review

Short films often go under-appreciated due to the simple fact that there’s a lack of awareness regarding the short film as a valid medium. There’s no theatrical release, rarely is there a big name actor/director to rally an audience behind a short film. But the truth is it that there a lot of value to films sporting even the most minimal of budgets as it all depends on the talent and vision in front and behind the camera. Something that Quadratura capitalises on is a respect for the ambition of the piece. Complex themes and stories are woven into a 45-minute surrealistic drama surrounding a girl who is confronted with startling realities and the journey to self-discovery. 

Often when big ambitious projects are made on relatively low budgets, there’s an expectation that the quality will suffer to make way for the scope of the film. For the most part, Quadratura doesn’t have that problem. There are a few minor bumps along the way, but nothing that distracts from the overall viewing experience. This is a story about grief, loss, and memory wrapped up with some lovely poetic storytelling and great performances across the board. That being said, the ambition and scope of the film’s tone often hinders the emotional core of the story. For example, there is a motif of a dancer in front of a black background that is often cut to to illustrate meaning and emotion. The dancer is very talented and the choreography is solid, but the abundance of times it is referred to throughout the film ends up being more of a distraction than a thematic support. The intention is clear the ambition is respected, but the execution just didn’t come off in the way it was intended. Quadratura tells an emotionally grounded story in a fantastical manner, which gives clarity to a lot of the filmmaking decisions across the runtime, but a certain self-awareness needed to be had in regards to the strengths of the film. 

The cinematography is one the main highlights of the film for sure. Across the white, minimalistic background was a rare opportunity to play with perspective, focus, and shot composition and this was achieved very effectively. Due to the expansive scope of the storytelling and telling it mainly in one location, it was a good choice to explore a variety of framing techniques and angles which each provide some clarity when considering the themes and the narrative. One great example of this was during a sequence where Angela bends down to look at something, and the choice of perspective evoked Alice in Wonderland imagery, something that is referred to in the dialogue at another point in the film. This is a wonderful example of the filmmaking highlighting the story to achieve maximum tonal consistency, and the photography was a large part of making that vision actualised. Occasionally, the film suffers from choosing the wrong thing to focus on in a sequence, so cutting away to imagery or the dance sequence which an emotional character moment is happening. When you have competent actors delivering the lines and feeling their characters in every way, letting them do the work is preferable when you’re dealing with emotion and the realisations the characters are having. Particularly in Angela’s case, in which the story revolves around her coming to these truths and really understanding the purpose of what is happening to her. Sometimes it works, and the imagery can imply emotion and the moment shines, but other times it hinders the emotional journey of the story. 

It’s often difficult to convey such deep, meaningful themes without having a longer format to express them in, and the actors carry a large part of that effort. At the core of the film, we have Angela (Madeleine Lloyd-Jones) and Teleran (Tom Crilly) whose relationship is the core of the film and is also complex to actualise upon first viewing. The two actors do very compelling work to keep the story going throughout its changing perspectives and timelines. Madeleine Lloyd-Jones is brilliant as Angela, it’s obvious from the performance that she really felt Angela in every scene and worked to remember the emotional core of the piece. It really seemed as though she was growing, changing, and learning in every Stage that passed, her eyes so expressive to convey her character arc, even in the moments without dialogue. It’s beautiful work which could have easily been mishandled and overacted, but she keeps the emotional balance and tone just right in every moment. Tom Crilly has perhaps the most challenging role in the film as Teleran, whose role consists of omniscience and cryptic riddles (something addressed by Angela in a fit of anger during the film). As the bearer of a lot of the film’s exposition, the role could have been deemed as somewhat monotonous and lacking in range or substance, but Crilly infuses just enough depth into it for him to serve his purpose. Teleran is a purposefully frustrating character to Angela, as he won’t just provide the easy answers, instead sending her on her journey to self-actualisation, but the performance reads the character from an interesting perspective which provides a lot more hidden experiences and emotions that are intriguing and left unexplored, which only keeps a viewer more engaged with the story. The leads work well together in their scenes which cover a variety of emotions. Further mention to Natalia Dawidowicz who plays Casadia, Angela’s mother. Her scenes are mostly few and far-between, but she brings a startling level of authenticity to the character and ensures that you remember her just as fondly as Angela does, providing further immersion into the story world.

The world built by the screenwriter, Ryan Whittingham, is one that demands your attention and concentration to ensure that you’re following along. A simple step into a lift can lead to another place entirely without the guiding hand of explanation. The benefit of the genre Quadratura resides in is that the world can build its own rules without needing to elucidate. The script sets out its premise and format very early on, but you don’t really know where it’s going until much later. There’s a reveal, sure, but there’s no sweeping twist that comes out of nowhere. The reveal itself is one that perhaps could have been translated to the screen more directly for a more effective impact, but may demand rewatches if it isn’t immediately obvious. The script is helmed by the dialogue which makes its impression before the introductory credits have even rolled. The dialogue itself is tonally sound and fitting with the world, though its floweriness can often lead to superfluous writing that seems to lead nowhere. The words are beautiful and well thought out, and they have a nice rhythm to them, though certain sections could have had more of a point to them rather than feeling like more thematic resonance. The imagery does the work alongside it, some moments required either no dialogue or something more simplistic while still being tonally consistent. The writing fits the characters and the situations quite well, even if some lines feel out of place or vacant.

Running alongside the writing to complement the story is the direction and handling of imagery. As mentioned previously with the dance sequences, some decisions don’t quite work with the flow and rhythm of the film, and certain cutaways are ill-placed when taking into account what would be happening on the screen. The assignment of memories to objects works very well and can create personal attachment within the audience. Everybody has that one possession that invokes a sudden storm of nostalgia or an equally powerful memory when they look at it, and that works well as a visual trigger for Angela, and subsequently the audience. There seemed to be a clear vision for how the film would look, though sometimes I wished the execution would have matched the bold, ambitious intentions. Piotr Kuwik’s score is well thought out and potentially not even used enough during the film, instead preferring a collection of sound cues that sometimes becomes jarring. Sometimes they work though and have the desired effect, particular when dealing with the emotional factor of the story.

Considering its contextual factors, Quadratura is a success story for low-budget short films. A big story told on a relatively small scale that works to provide the necessary emotional beats and highlights some great acting, writing, and cinematography. A great job from everyone involved and some smart handling of some tricky storytelling that should only encourage the medium of short-film narratives.

Quadratura currently does not have a specific release date due to inclusions in some film festivals, but it will be released on YouTube following the run. Updates can be found by following Ryan Whittingham, the writer, on Twitter here.

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