Reviews Short Narrative

Caroline & Jim (2020) – 2.5 stars

Director: Arjan Gebraad

Cast: Arjan Gebraad, Amy van der Weerden, Caroline O’Meara

Running time: 7mins

It is always a struggle having to write about filmmakers that have potential which is not quite there yet. I definitely do not want to dishearten any talented individual from staying passionate and going after their dreams. I tend to start with what I like about a film before moving on to the awkward part for this reason. On this occasion though, I am going for a different approach.

Caroline & Jim left me with rather mixed feelings. It was not bad to watch, but something within me found it mediocre. Initially I could not point exactly what led me to that conclusion. I sat in silence while reflecting on the short film and tried unpacking it. 

Was it the subject? No. In Caroline & Jim, we witness the titular couple’s fight over the course of one night. They are reflecting on past experiences with each other, what they hate about each other, all while weighing their current, intoxicated situation. One thing is clear: they can’t live with or without one another.

As someone very much into the EDM scene, and kind of familiar with such situations – where you and your partner operate on, erm… different levels – I was happy to see that a filmmaker was exploring relationship dynamics of partners under the influence of drugs. It is a narrative that – in my very humble opinion – is not displayed enough and requires more attention. Drugs and alcohol are integral parts of many relationships in Western society, like it or not. If there is one country that could create a safe place for films examining that link, that would be the Netherlands.

While the theme seemed solid however, after rewinding a bit and focusing more on standalone elements, I realised that part of my disappointment with Caroline and Jim stemmed from the acting. The central performances felt disappointingly forced, while even the voice overs lacked an emotional spark that a film about a turbulent relationship has to have. On-screen, though, it is the most noticeable: our lead couple feel as though they are not in tune. This is not a couple that has been together through highs and lows; coming across more as a couple dating for a month, all while their dating app accounts are still active. As Jim, Arjan Gebraad’s choice to direct himself results in a colourless performance. Amy van der Weerden’s presence as Caroline is marginally better, but on the other hand, it still comes across as weak – even in contrast to Caroline O’Meara’s voice over. 

The lack of emotional impact encourages the mind to wander when the film’s technical work comes up short, too. Close ups (the purpose of which I suppose was to highlight the tension between the couple), end up making the production look a bit amateurish. We see such beautiful images of attraction and despise among the two, and the story itself tells me all I need to know about the two characters. But close up images of the heroine’s chipped and mismatched painted nails, for example, do not make me think of what a wreck she is. If that is the worst of it, she’s pretty much on the level. So instead of cluing me into how far she has fallen, the shots reminded me to do my mani before I go to the office again.

As the credits began to roll, I began trying to organise my thoughts, having spaced out amid such thoughts. Then, suddenly, a few things became a little clearer. It emerges that the inspiration for the short came from music – Caroline says I & Caroline says II, by Lou Reed. Thinking about this, I wondered how much better the film might have been if it just served as a video clip, playing over Reed’s original track? The rights would probably be difficult to obtain – maybe expensive – but the delivery might have been much less awkward. Even without those songs, this might have worked as a wordless video clip. The track accompanying the credits would have been actually perfect. It would not need to be a track with lyrics, because the storyline could stand on its own – a silent equivalent to Eminem & Rihanna’s Love the Way you Lie.

Does this mean that a soundtrack could have saved this short? That is inconclusive. The elements that brought it down would still be present but perhaps covered for an untrained eye and an audience that could look past any weaknesses. However, there would still be a lot to unpack and work on. In the end, the film would still have some technical issues that would keep it away from perfection. Gebraad is definitely talented, and there will be some great work coming from him in the future. Until then, I hope he experiments a bit more to find what works best for him as a filmmaker and how to convey the messages he wants to.

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