Film review: Stew & Punch by Simon Ellis

A party between long-term friends based on stew and punch, eventually too much punch. An exciting moment, until what looked like a playful night degenerates. Simon Ellis, a versatile, experienced short film director (Soft, 2007) convinces for his formal choices linked to modern social issues evoked in this work.

Stew & Punch, on the edge between drama and comedy, is a glimpse of a situation where conflicts of identity based on role and gender raise from tensions between the characters involved. The main focus seems to be around masculinity, put in question by a childish arm wrestling challenge between the host couple. More in general, what emerges between the story lines is that the traditional conventions of role and gender (that are supposedly fluid in our modern society) are still quite “felt” by the (male) characters. To avoid unpleasant risks, the implicit suggestion seems that when things are taken much too seriously, the risk of losing our self-control and sense of measures runs high. So, what saves the day seems perhaps to be common sense, able to dilute discord, and the sense of humour is as much part of that recipe as is the effect of a healthy chamomile to the facial vomit dejection (a kitsch symbol of excess to calm down!). Apart from these considerations, it is necessary to point out that Ellis does not attempt any analysis, but merely tests the waters of evocation and he seems to do very effectively. 

His merit is due to the filming method adopted, as well, giving proof of a certain familiarity to move the camera in a coral situation where the actors' direction is crucial. The short is in fact composed by three acts filmed as long shots divided with the black curtain (the black screen), with an unsolved sense of conclusion (the first and second act end with dissatisfaction vented in the punch).

The long shots modality of discourse, widely chosen by filmmakers nowadays (the uncut-shot of L.Zeqirai's Balkony and S.Mokri's Fish and Cat screened to last Venice Orizzonti, just to mention two recent examples) is mainly the challenge to give the impression that is the camera moving in the situation avoiding the artificial sensation of actors acting in front of the camera and this seems well done. In this sense, due to a situation on the edge of coming apart, this choice results successful, if we are willing to consider it a management of a situation literally to “keep in the frame” and to “focus on”, wholly. With the sense of measure, and without taking too much seriously, as well.

Author: Yuri Lavecchia*

Title: Stew & Punch

Director: Simon Ellis

Year: 2013

Run time: 16'40''

Genre: Fiction

Country: UK

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*Every day Cineuropa Shorts, in collaboration with Nisimazine and Lago Film Fest (18-26 July), offers you film reviews and interviews made in Lago by the brilliant Nisimazine’s team of young journalists.

23 July 2014, by Nisimazine