Susan Omand heads for 19th Century Alaska and watches the short film Lost Face...
In mid-1800’s Russian America, Subienkow finds himself the one of only two survivors of a group of Russian fur-thieves who have just been defeated by liberators from the local tribe they have enslaved as forced labour. Now Subienkow faces a long, protracted and painful death unless he can come up with a plan for escape.
Subienkow calls over the tribe’s chief, Makamuk, and he begins to bargain…
Lost Face is a short film with a “mature” rating and it’s easy to see why, as it is highly violent right from the start. The film opens on a Native American encampment with a vicious torture scene underway, whose shock value is increased when you realise that it is the women of the tribe perpetrating the acts on a captor-turned-captured man as Subienkow watches on. This scene is incredibly well handled and never feels overplayed or cartoonish, the brutality is very believable and the use of the crackling campfire sound over the screams of the tortured man is highly unsettling. The visual effects too are mostly realistic and the gore is not unnecessary as it sets the scene for the situation that the thief Subienkow finds himself in, literally bargaining for his life.
The casting, for the most part, worked for me with Martin Dubreuil, as Subienkow, putting the confidence into the confidence trickster thief as he tries to talk his way out of being tortured by the tribe like a “snake oil” quack getting the audience to believe anything he says. The “mark” in this con, Gerald Augar as Chief Makamuk, reacts marvellously to the bargaining as it continues and you can really see the wheels in his head beginning to turn by the changes in his facial expressions as he is lured in, step by step, to taking the bait. I must also mention the behind-the-camera highly creative make-up and costuming work of Lisa Belyea and Deitra Kayln respectively. The research they obviously put in gave the film an authentic feel of time and place without ever feeling stereotypical.
I hadn’t read the short story Lost Face by Jack London, author of books like Call of the Wild and White Fang, before I saw this short film that is based on it. However, I went looking for the story after watching and, in some ways, doing that has spoiled the film a bit for me as there is so much more than the spoken dialogue from Subienkow in the writing, inner thoughts and memories from his past which rounded out his character and explained why he did what he did, that just didn’t come across in the film at all. However, it would have taken much longer and a far bigger budget to build the characters to the point they are in London’s work. As it is you still get the main message of the story through this short, even if it loses the nuance, so it made sense that writer/director Seam Meehan didn’t tackle the subtext of the original work but stuck to making the main story succeed admirably.
Lost Face is a classic case of a no-win situation that somebody has to win. The really clever bit in the film is when you realise what “winning” actually means.
Image - Soma Films