Reviews Short Narrative

Flash/Crash (2022) – 3.5 stars

Director: Angelo Perez Lebbink

Writer: Angelo Perez Lebbink

Cast: Karim El Guennouni, Meriyem Manders, Abdenbi Azzaoui, Jihane el Fahidi, Werner Kolf

Running time: 13mins

The star of Flash/Crash might honestly be Gijs Roodhart’s camera. His cinematography picks out impressive depth and detail, while the RED footage has been made to absolutely sing in post-production by the editing of Django Agterberg and the grading of Massih Djamie.

Every frame tells a story of its own – musty rooms of a dilapidated apartment take on a cavernous quality, speaking to a grand horror that is about to unfold in them; while the light bouncing off the skin of people crammed in the back of a truck fills in the blanks regarding a clammy, claustrophobic trauma they have endured – and that is important, given just how little of the story is overtly spelled out for us.

The biggest problem that writer-director Angelo Perez Lebbink faces here, is that visual texture can only take us so far. After doing a little post-viewing research, I found that Flash/Crash is actually part of a crime film trilogy – alongside shorts #Naima and Exit S106, which address themes of self-harm and human trafficking via the struggles of the characters present in Flash/Crash.

On top of extending the narrative strands of other parts of the series, sequels and prequels generally need to be able to work just as well as a standalone film. While the insufferable catalogue of films in the Star Wars or Marvel universes might get away with bending that rule a little and setting homework – because their films are at least readily available for viewers who want to fill in the gaps – that rule goes double for independent filmmakers, who cannot assume audiences have watched or can watch their other works. That’s really where this film comes up a little short.

Flash/Crash seems to be the climactic sequence of a trilogy, in which addict Brahim (Karim El Guennouni) finally has to reckon with the traumatic events of the first two films. If the other films are the same length, it is hard to understand exactly why they have been packaged apart at all – and it is hard not to feel that it would have been easier to engage with the film’s worthy core messages if they were all included in one definitive cut. It would certainly have helped with the many instances during Flash/Crash in which I found myself struggling to put together the characters’ relationships to each other.

Brahim starts the film begrudgingly taking on some kind of job for Ab (Abdenbi Azzaoui). Perez Lebbink’s dialogue is enjoyably surly, with Azzaoui’s unfussy delivery making it seem as though we are witnessing a grumpy conversation between a pair of long-suffering tradesmen, quarrelling over who takes on an unpleasant plumbing gig. But with Ab paying Brahim for his efforts with a derisory lunch of kousenband salad, and a complimentary bag of drugs, it becomes apparent the task may be something rather less wholesome.

As Brahim drives to the location of the job, he retraces some moments from a past life – possibly from one of the previous films – in which the tempestuous relationship he had with Naima comes to a devastating head. Upon arrival, he finds a parked van, and stepping inside, there is Marion (Meriyem Manders) – bound and gagged.

After freeing her, Brahim strikes up a conversation, as the exhausted pair slouch against the side of the van. Marion’s blackened left-eye, the scars on her wrist, and the prominent veins on her forearm speak of a horrific life – while the blunt discussion between the two characters confirms the worst. She has been trafficked into a life of sex work, and is in the back of the van because she tried to walk away from it.

Returning to my point that the film doesn’t do as much as it might to clue us in on what is going on, there is enough here to understand the gravity of the situation – and the importance of Brahim’s coming choices. To that end, I would say this is still a solid piece of work, which will grip audiences, at least in the immediate context of the unfolding drama. But it could have been even better.

Going on context clues alone, I for one cannot work out what the repercussions of one set of choices open to Brahim will be. I can only speculate as to the motives of Ab, for example, who has sent him to a van where a victim of human trafficking is bound and gagged in the back.

Is Ab a trafficker who expects Brahim to punish someone he considers to be property? If so, why is Brahim so unconcerned about what may happen if he doesn’t deliver? Is Ab actually trying to help Brahim rescue someone who means a great deal to him? Why is he giving Brahim drugs then? Who exactly is Didier – a man who is talked about but never has any direct impact on any of the proceedings? And what is the historic relationship between Brahim and Marion that causes him to think long and hard about the way his life is going?

All of these questions mean it is hard for us to determine exactly what Brahim is supposed to be learning, or really what the stakes are beyond the scenario being presented to us in this standalone film. That reduces the impact those lessons have on us, and limits our capacity to think about them in either a grander narrative arc, or beyond the film to the world of very real horrors it touches on.

On the basis of what is on display in Flash/Crash, Angelo Perez Lebbink clearly has a lot to offer as a filmmaker. He has got the most out of his cast, who collectively deliver gritty, grounded and human performances – while he has also assembled a great team of visual artists to help him use every inch of the film’s sets to help us understand a story with minimal expository dialogue. His production has created a rich, textured world of visual and emotional contrasts. I just wish more of that world was on display in this particular film.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: