Reviews Short Narrative

Fragmented (2020) – 4 stars

Director: Andre Rodrigues

Cast: Ines Rodrigues, Morgarida Oliveira, Andre Rodrigues

Running time:  11mins

Images and memory, the ownership of both has been brought into question by the electronic communications revolution. How electronic devices allow us to access images of ourselves and those we love and thereby access and, in some way, reify our memories is one of the key themes of this enigmatic short film by Andre Rodrigues. Rodrigues subtly combines this core question with the wider existential conundrum of a human being’s attempts to come to terms with death and the reality of an immeasurable, expanding universe. These are, indeed, Big Questions.

Fragmented begins with a shot of a well-maintained middle-class house. The film is set throughout in an affluent milieu with the accompanying assumption that there will be cutting-edge communications technology on hand. We move inside the house and are shown a Young Woman (Ines Rodrigues) lying on a bed. The room is minimalist, high tech and forensically neat and tidy. We are then shown a series of sequences where the Young Woman uses a remote control to project images on to a screen above the bed. As the sequences develop, the director cleverly builds the narrative. We become aware that the images are all of the Young Woman’s mother.

The Mother (Morgarida Oliveira) later appears at key intervals in the meta-reality of the film. The actors playing these roles very much resemble one another – I am assuming they are actually mother and daughter. In the only scene that I felt to be superfluous in the whole movie, when we are thrown back into the galaxy of the hand-written word, we have the Young Woman taking pen to paper and writing ‘Dear Mum’. By this stage, your reviewer had made the link and the scene seemed a bit of unnecessary telegraphy. However, this is the director’s only misstep in the portrayal of the mother-daughter relationship. What I particularly liked is Rodrigues never gives us an explicit marker of the Mother being dead – this is left for the viewer to conclude rightly or wrongly. This could be a story of bereavement or alienation or, indeed, both. We move on from the images generated by the remote control to realise that the Young Woman uses a medallion, this plays a role as a constant reminder of the Mother.

Then we come to Space. There are two scenes of the Young Woman and the Mother by a high-powered astronomical telescope. Then we are shown that the screen above the bed is in reality a roof window that looks out onto the heavens. The Young Woman goes outside the house and discovers a meteorite has landed in the yard. She picks up the meteorite, a small, crystal ball, and this will be another fetish for her – a device to be used alongside the medallion – but one which inadvertently summons up beings, Spirits, rather than images. The Spirits are dark.

The Spirits manifest themselves as disembodied black hooded raincoats with white smoke swirling around where the face would be and with smoke occasionally emitted from the sleeves. This sounds a recipe for a sci-fi props-based disaster, but it works surprisingly well – the Spirits are plausible and sinister. Rodrigues ups the fear quotient as the Spirits begin to menace the Young Woman. The soundtrack places a huge part in generating an atmosphere of doom – it is mixture of electronic music with the quotidian sounds of the Young Woman moving round the house.

In the climactic scene – my favourite segment of the film – the Young Woman gets tooled up for a High Noon showdown with the Spirits. We see her tuck a heavy hammer in her belt and place plugs in her ears, presumably so as not to hear any Siren voices. The showdown, with its attendant violent drama, takes place on open ground, outside of the confined atmosphere of the house, and is beautifully staged and filmed.

The special effects and CGI in the scene, as they do throughout the film, come across extremely well. This is helped by the overall quality of the editing and cinematography which is genuinely high quality. All these strands come together in the post-resolution scene where Rodrigues provides an effective Twist. To set the scene, we are shown an Elysian meadow of wildflowers, the Twist takes place and then the director cuts to a single drone shot from high above, looking directly down from Space, at a single human being amongst a starburst of flowers – a beautiful piece of cinema.

However, while watching Fragmented I kept thinking there was something missing, a void at the heart of the movie. There is no dialogue throughout excepting when the Young Woman, uncertain of whether she is seeing her mother or one of the Spirits, cries out Mum? It was at this point that I realised what was not there. Ines Rodrigues does a good job in a demanding role – she is on screen for the entire film – but it is hard for the audience to empathise with an entirely mute character especially when a large part of the action takes place in an aseptic, laboratory atmosphere. Possibly, the director might have introduced some light and shade with an occasional piece of spoken internal monologue or further shouted imprecations or expletives when the character is confronted by the Spirits. However, this is just one viewer’s take on a road not taken.

What I was particularly impressed with was that the director does not underestimate the audience’s intelligence. Rodrigues is not afraid to present us with a mystery and trust us to reach our own conclusion. Apart from the Dear Mum letter, there is none of the overt signposting that so many aspiring filmmakers feel they have to use to retain the viewer. Another refreshing aspect of Fragmentation is that Rodrigues works within his production limits – the movie is not over ambitious.

Many new directors when they have access to drone technology and CGI use it as emulsion paint to cover every surface. However, Rodrigues uses these tools of the craft with subtlety and we never get the impression, as in many experimental films, that the special effects are driving the narrative. With Fragmentation, we have a talented filmmaker who has given us a truly independent film – idiosyncratic and thought provoking. As to the Big Questions posed, this idea comes to mind. We have all, I am sure, pondered on the reality of cyberspace – it may be just possible that the self-images that we upload into it have become immortal – we will have a wraith-like presence there for eternity. Delete never means delete when you are living in a cloud.

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