There might be no fixed running time to define or limit the options of a short film, but the art of the format however is still about telling a story as focused and pointed as possible. In most of the cases, the disadvantages of this approach will affect identification. Because, how deep can you dig into a fictional character when you only get to share five, ten or twenty minutes with them? This being said, the achievements of first-time filmmaker Axelle Carolyn and her lead actress Jean Marsh cannot be praised enough. With barely eleven minutes (including end credits), „The Last Post“ easily evolves the emotional depth of a two-hour drama.
Mildly following the Aristotelian unities, the story is set in a single room over the course of less than two days. Accompanied by a tender score we watch Colette, an old lady of French origin, spending her time in a sparsely furnitured retirement home, slightly decorated with photographic memories of family members and a past long gone. The light is soft and so are the colors. There is no sign of death or decay, of darkness or depression, although it is quite clear that we are witnessing a life nearing its end sooner or later.
When the elegantly written credits finish, the old lady gets aware of a blurry figure, stationary standing in the hallway. The tone shifts and becomes slightly uncanny for a moment, but before we can observe him more closely, the stranger is already gone again. No one had been there, the nurse tells Colette later on, only to be proven wrong by the old lady (and us) seeing him again. But we are a trained audience. We know he is just an apparition, a ghost. The question is, what does he want?
But there is not much time for us to consider an answer as all of our attention is occupied by Colette whose long life seems to have manifested in every single wrinkle, gesture and movement, the sound of her voice and the words she speaks. Before we even realize, we have been fallen in love with her. She may have become a little forgetful about the present, but the past is breathing vividly in her memories: A heartbreaking story of a love that never was and an old letter that catches a poignant tear of regret is pretty much all this film needs to strike a chord with the audience that still remains long after the end credits are done.
It is more than remarkable how Carolyn paints this tiny narration with only very few strokes of the brush. The mise-en-scène is not going for experiments or trying to gain any attention for itself. Instead, every shot is dedicated to the story and its central character. Composed with love but also a kind of precision that is probably only visible on repeated viewing. Take the clock on the wall for instance. It tells the exact time between every scene and gives us an idea of how fast or slow the day is running out for Colette, but while doing so it remains humbly in the background. Such is the attitude of the filmmaker as well.
To many, Axelle Carolin is best known as a film journalist with a broad knowledge in the field of horror (most notably proven by „It lives again!“, her brilliant book on the genre in the early 21st century). Nevertheless, this is no horror at all. If anything, it is a ghost story and then some. But most of all „The Last Post“ proves to be a deeply touching character drama that feels more like the final minutes of a grand feature (thinking „Atonement“) than a short film.
Devotedly and at the same time unobtrusively played by veteran actress Jean Marsh, tenderly supported by Kimberley Nixon (of „Black Death“), beautifully shot by cinematographer Gary Shaw („Moon“), gently scored by Christian Henson („Triangle“) and carefully edited by Neil Marshall („The Descent“), this short is without a doubt a piece of narrational art that can only leave you cold when you have no heart at all. [LZ]
OT: The Last Post (UK 2011). DIRECTOR: Axelle Carolyn. WRITER: Axelle Carolyn. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gary Shaw. MUSIC: Christian Henson. CAST: Jean Marsh, Kimberley Nixon, Darren Bransford. RUNTIME: 11.39 min.
[Images: Witching Hour Films]