With the autumn film festivals fast approaching, Susan Omand dressed her viewing for the season and watched the short film The Overcoat...
When you see Jason Watkins name on a cast list (or, rather, his face on a press photo because he’s one of those actors you know from so many things, but his name might escape you) then you know that you’re in for a character that’s a little bit off the mainstream track. So it proved with The Overcoat, a new short film adaptation by Patrick Myles of the classic tale by Nikolai Gogol. In case you don’t know the story, a man who works as a lowly government clerk (here given the job of proof-reader of important government documents) and leads a very mundane life, with the same routine every day, same breakfast, same newspaper, even the same clothes. His overcoat in particular, being very threadbare and full of holes, makes him the butt of office jokes and teasing, so he takes the coat to get repaired. When the tailor cannot repair it and suggests he gets a new one, the clerk has to work hard and save harder to be able to afford the new coat. When he gets it, it is very fine, and people notice him, start chatting to him rather than teasing him, and he is proud of himself in his dashing new garment. He even gets invited to a party, although he’s not good at social gatherings, and it’s on the way home from this that things start to go very, very wrong for him.
With the addition of a narrator voice over, interesting cinematography and strong character realisation from all involved, the film takes on a fairytale like quality and reminded me a lot of stories told in the likes of Terry Gilliam’s Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the made-up tales in Burton’s Big Fish. The Overcoat for me embodied (pun unintended) that same slightly surreal, fantastical quality of a simple tale, told by an engaging story-teller. The events are simplified too and the over-exaggeration of the characters and their actions is very child-like. In a good way. I mean that it is like listening to the awe and wonder of a child telling a story about something that happened in their day, describing things as they saw them and embellishing reality to “make it better” with a vivid imagination. Also, like all good fairytales, there is a dark turn to the story and there’s an ending that Disney would definitely have to change to fit their sugary stereotype.
So, this is an enjoyable take on a classic tale, with just enough quirk to lift it above the usual. I must admit that I thought the classic story as it was told would have made a marvellous wee film on its own and I felt we didn’t really need to drop out of the tale at the end and see the teller with a Dorothy-esque look at his audience. That said though, this is probably the first short film I’ve watched that had a post-credit sequence!
Here's the trailer.
Image - New Division Films