Film - Birthday

VentSpleen finds a short film with a lot to say as he watched Birthday from director Chris King...

When a young military wife gets news that her Marine husband has been severely wounded in combat, she discovers that their life ahead is going to be an overwhelming – yet amazing – journey...

Considering the length of this short film and the magnitude of the subject matter it could seriously have missed the mark. The potential to gloss over or accidentally treat the issue of military veteran injury and the seismic damage it causes to relationships was a pitfall that would have been embarrassing to watch. Thirteen minutes is no time at all when you are passionately seeking to engage an audience with an issue that is faced by countless families every year. Director and Writer, Chris King, is a military veteran himself and knows only to well the challenges that are faced by our military veterans every year. This film is for them but it is also for the public at large and an attempt to open a conversation around levels of support both individually and at Government level.

Birthday tells the story of a young couple longing for the day they will be reunited, once military tour of duty is at an end. We witness "Wife" and "Husband" having an every day conversation using Skype, in the way that countless people do when distance separates them. The decision not to name the two leads is a bold one as to do so risks a further barrier between audience and film. Whether it was a decision that was reached so that they could be you or me is not clear but fortunately the 13 minute running time of the short is not long enough for this to be an issue. Sufficient time is spent building a connection, of sorts, so that when the tragic bomb blast occurs the audience feels the emotional devastation this causes. This is no small achievement as to connect effectively with an audience as quickly as this film demands is a feat that many indie film makers completely fail to achieve. It is testament to the natural and believable performances from Mandy Moody and Chris Gouchoe that sympathy is so firmly rested on "Wife". Many military families are left in fear of the knock at the door, the visit that will bring news which tears apart a relationship.

Birthday is a short film that doesn't shy away from the horror of injury caused by a landmine or explosive device but neither does it dwell on it. The focus feels like it is placed on the challenge of a relationship that is now set on a very different trajectory. The real work begins once "Husband" returns home and both have to adjust to a radically altered normality. Here are scenes that show every day activities that have to be accomplished with new vigour and where even the seemingly straight forward task of eating a meal can lead to frustration. There are moments of intense sadness and moments of pure loving beauty but at no stage does the film tip into sugary sentiment. This real life and this is a relationship that requires rebuilding if it is to survive. The t shirt bearing the slogan "Combat Wounded Marine - Some Assembly Required" has both a powerful truth to it but also alludes to the way forward. So many smiles, so much shared laughter. A sense of humour is impossible to find sometimes at moments of intense anguish but eventually and even in the darkest of times laughter returns. The sparing use of dialogue is a brave one as the focus of attention is on action and on facial expression. With a soundtrack which would be best described as ambient the audience has nothing to distract them from the central performance and message that is so vividly conveyed.

Birthday feels longer than its 13 minute running time and this is a wonderful achievement because it covers its challenging subject matter with enough depth. When it is viewed as a starting point, as an aperitif, to a longer discussion it makes a powerful and decisive statement. There is enough material here to make a feature length film and this longer running time would allow the Director to build more emotional connection and continue the discourse that he has started.

Image - London Flair
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