Reviews Short Narrative

Blue Sunday (2020) – 3.5 stars

Director: Steven Griffin

Writer: Steven Griffin

Cast: Linda Do, Tom Lute, Laura Mannion, Paul Smith

An atmospheric and whimsical little piece from Canadian writer-director Steven Griffin, Blue Sunday opens on a tableau of a young couple. But there’s something a bit odd about Anna and Richard McIntyre.

Their period-decorated living room is not the most colourful, but even surrounded by its muted tones, they seem monochromatic. Richard in particular exists purely in shades of grey. Are we looking at a scene from a hundred years ago? Or are they some sort of exhibit? Re-enactors in a living museum maybe?

Then Anna (Laura Mannion) addresses the camera directly, speaking to “Miss Chen.” It transpires that Anna is filming a video message to send to documentary maker Kim Chen, inviting her to come and make a film about them. Well, that sounds very modern and not from a hundred years ago. So, what really is going on? Why are these folks seemingly living in two different time periods?

The answer is broadly guessable from very early on but isn’t explicitly spelled out until late in the piece. And for my tastes, this is where the film falls a bit short. Slightly too much is given away upfront and the full account, when it arrives, is unnecessarily detailed. I would have preferred the story telling to remain enigmatic.

Perhaps more use of the wonderfully taciturn character of Richard (Tom Lute) over the more garrulous Anna would have allowed greater tension to build. A heightened level of mystery could also have avoided the rather clunky reaction from Chen (Linda Do) when the reveal comes.

Aside from these decisions from Griffin though, this is a very engaging film. All four on-screen actors (Paul Smith plays Chen’s colleague Vincent Avery) do excellent work. The cinematography by Ryan Randall expertly creates the appropriate reflective mood while establishing the dual sense of period. The set dressing, costumes, locations and assorted paraphernalia are all unobtrusively perfect. Despite the highly unusual premise, much of this feels deeply realistic.

I won’t name them, to avoid spoilers, but two notable feature films from the last 20 years came to my mind while watching Blue Sunday. Both arguably did a better job of holding their secrets, thereby generating more dramatic tension and delivering a more satisfying pay-off.

Blue Sunday, which certainly works nicely as a short, feels like it could be expanded to feature length – the premise is strong enough and the characters are people we could happily spend longer getting to know. But it would need a sharp focus on re-working the script to build up the sense of mystery.

Griffin states on his own website that his approach to composition includes “trusting that the decision to not do something within a frame is just as important as the choice to do something.” This is a principle that he could equally apply to his scriptwriting, just allowing that little bit of extra space for the viewer to do their own thinking. Still, on the evidence of Blue Sunday, while he still learning his craft, Griffin is a talented filmmaker who is well worth keeping an eye on.

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