Saturday, August 04, 2007


MOST (2003, USA, Bobby Garabedian, screenplay with William Zabka)

Most of us never get the chance to see some of the most compelling films around, simply because they're too darn short. You can tell a lot of story in twenty or forty minutes, but unless you pad it out to an hour and a half or two, nobody's going to show your movie. Or rent it at the video store. Or even hear about it.

Often, that's a pity. In the case of Most, it's a terrible loss. People who have seen this film count it among the best and most powerful movies they have ever seen: some say it's been life-changing. An audience favorite when it debuted at the prestigious Sundance Festival, it went on to win top honors at the Heartland Film Festival, Maui, Palm Springs and other international competitions before receiving an Oscar nomination as Best Live Action Short Film in 2004.

"Most" is Czech for "The Bridge," and this story revolves around a railway drawbridge somewhere in Eastern Europe, and the man whose responsibility it is to raise the bridge to allow ships to pass through. We glimpse the lives of passengers who find their way onto the train one autumn afternoon, as we get to know this man and the son he is raising on his own. Some sadness seems to cast a shadow on the man, and it seems almost as an act of caring for his father that the boy insists on accompanying him to work this particular day. To reveal much at all of a story this concise and beautifully constructed would be to rob the viewer of some of the film's greatest power, but there's no doubt the source of its true impact lies in the tangible realness of the lives we encounter.

The acting is glorious: what a privilege to see such astonishingly accomplished actors, their faces completely unrecognizeable to a North American audience. None of the distractions of celebrity to compete with the reality of the world that opens up onscreen.

And what a tangible, engrossing, closely observed world it is. The seed of the screenplay may be something of a Christian "urban legend," familiar from sermons, tracts and fireside talks at summer camp, but the film's exquisite attention to sensual detail and deeper character development makes it so much more. The events at the core of this story may have happened once, may not have, but over the years its telling and re-telling have stripped away the particularities and reduced it to its "message": but here the film-makers fill out the narrative with rich detail, not only of life in a European city viewed through the eyes of a small boy, but also by extending the stories of the central characters beyond the bounds of the didactic, boiled-down allegory. Elements of this story resonate with larger stories at the heart of the Christian faith, but the film-makers have introduced so much human detail back into the tale that it confounds the sort of one-to-one symbolic interpretation the "parable version" invites. It moves from an evocative, almost dreamlike opening to a stunning climax with tremendous artistry, then finds a perfectly conceived denoument that not only shifts the story away from a flatly allegorical interpretation but provides even greater emotional resonance for the events that have gone before.

The eastern European tone and setting combined with the moral/relational conundrum at the heart of the story are reminiscent of Kieslowski, particularly the short films in his acclaimed Decalogue project, though there's an unabashed soulfulness here (however understated) that contrasts with the muted emotions of the Polish director's work, and probably renders Most just that much more accessible to a North American audience. It's remarkable to learn that the film originates with a pair of young Los Angeles film-makers, Bobby Garabedian and William Zabka (though those last names may help explain something of the film's European flavor). It will be just that much more remarkable – at least for people more cynical about "Christian film-making" – that the film's creators are both committed Christians. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Oh yes.

This film won't show up at your local movie theatre, or probably even your neighbourhood video store, so I strongly urge you to take the risk and order the DVD through the film's official website. Not only is it likely to be an extraordinary viewing experience for you and your family, but it is a film you will want to lend to others, probably even show at your church or to your movie-group. The film premiered with a score mostly borrowed from the soundtrack of Amelie (!), but the DVD release features an all new score by John Debney, whose quiet music for this film is as evocative as his heart-pounding Passion Of The Christ score was thundrous and overwhelming.

Garabedian and Zabka have taken a well-worn story that's probably not true but is definitely True, and elaborated that mythic kernel into a multi-layered and evocative story that visits tragedy and suggests transcendence without ever descending to didacticism. For my money, an absolute exemplar of what a short film can be, and of what Christians can accomplish with film: real art, real life, real hope. Take the trouble to seek it out.

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