Without the aid of a safety net, Susan Omand watches the short film Mirette, showing at Tribeca Film Festival...
Given the type of story Mirette is, I’m actually quite surprised that this was a live-action short and not an animation. It has the feel of Sylvain Chomet’s L’Illusionniste and you could easily see Mme Gateau’s boarding house as the kind of place that Chomet’s conjurer’s parents or grandparents would have frequented in Paris.
You see Mme Gateau’s place is a turn of the 20th century Parisian boarding house beloved by circus performers and her rooms are always full of clowns, knife-throwers, magicians, dancers and acrobats. Her young grand-daughter Mirette helps her out with the household chores, doing the washing and preparing meals. One evening a man appears asking for lodgings and Mirette is fascinated to discover that he is a wire-walker and she is determined to follow in his footsteps… literally.
The story is based on a children’s book called Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully and the harsh cynic in me says that the plot is an old and tired one with silly sentimentalism as the annoyingly plucky and resolute child wins over the gruff and inhospitable man who just wants to be left alone to brood over past failures. However, there is a balance (no pun intended) to the story with strength and vulnerability being shown on both sides rather than the emotive traffic all being one-way, and each ends up helping, and learning from, the other.
There are several things that lift the story above the schmaltz-fest that it could so easily have been. Firstly, there is the casting and that “oh, cool” feeling when the people that looked kind of like Miriam Margolyes as Mme Gateau and Tom Conti as the London promoter Charlie Meyer actually turn out to BE Miriam Margolyes and Tom Conti. I will admit that the girl playing Mirette, Dixie Egerickx, is still at the “I’m acting” stage of acting (you know what I mean) as she hasn’t quite hit the “less is more” acting yet that comes with experience and maturity. But the star, cast wise, for me in this short is Jean-Marc Desmond who, as Bellini the wire-walker, shows the strength of his character in his fear and can convey all the past experiences, successes and failures, without ever articulating them.
The other thing that, for me, really sets this short apart is the ambience that writer/director Helen O’Hanlon, cinematographer Mark Stubbs and composer Art Lewey manage to conjure up. From the richness of the bustling Fin de Siecle parlour of the house through the dreamlike nature of the sheet bedecked garden to the stark open coolness of the high wire in the night sky, it really is a feast for the senses.
Watch the trailer
Image - Mirette Film