Handle With Care is one of the nine short film programs in the Tribeca Film Festival this year. The theme of the program was characters caught in delicate situations, and subjects ranged from dating technology to working at a suicide hotline. Read on for a rundown of each individual film included in Handle With Care.
In Scratch, gas station clerk Eoin is in denial about his girlfriend breaking up with him. During his usual evening shift, a scratch card-obsessed regular gets lucky and wins big. Before he can collect, a masked robber walks through the door and demands Eoin empty the register.
Scratch is a fun little film about how quickly a person’s luck can change, and director and co-writer Philip Kelly set up a surprising amount of storytelling in only 14 minutes. The characters are not particularly complex, but their relationships to each other and their stakes in what follows are clearly drawn out. A small detail involving Eoin’s pet name for his girlfriend comes back around in a funny way, and the tension over a scratch ticket instead of the armed robber is very clever.
A socially awkward engineer is about to run out on his last line of credit, and he has until the next morning to pay his bills or he will lose all of his work on a revolutionary dating app. He tracks down a potential investor at a local bar, but the investor will only give him the money on one condition. He has to use his dating app to get a woman into bed, film them having sex, and send the video to the investor. The plan is complicated when he hits it off with his target and can’t go through with it.
The premise of App has a lot of promise. Social networking has changed dating, and there are plenty of creepy men and women who use sites like Facebook for stalking. In App, the dating app uses personal information available online, like a recent break-up or specific interests, so its user can manipulate its target. When the engineer eventually destroys his own app, it plays out as a redeeming moment for the character, but the film never addresses what kind of person would create this app in the first place. He wanted to sell an app that helps users trick people into bed. A last-minute change of heart does not redeem him as a character. For all those reasons, I can’t buy into the film’s happy ending, and I feel that App was a missed opportunity to dig beneath the surface on social media and its effect on developing real-life relationships.
In Contrapelo, a Mexican barber has just found out his son has joined a local drug cartel, and he tells his son to give it up or get out. Due to his reputation as a fine barber, he is coincidentally kidnapped and taken to the cartel’s leader where he must give the closest shave of his life to a man he despises.
Contrapelo is all about human nature and what a man is willing to do when put on the spot. The barber talks a big game when his son is standing in front of him, claiming he would kill every member of the cartel if he had the strength, but when the leader of the cartel is sitting before him with his neck exposed, he does not take his chance. On the other hand, the leader of the cartel has obviously killed people in the past and will not stray from his nature. When he is cleanly shaved, he goes right back to business and asks the barber’s son to kill a man in front of the barber. The barber’s razor blade seems like the film’s Chekhov’s Gun, but the ending goes for a smarter, more brutal punch.
For Spacious Sky
On Election Day 2008, two estranged brothers have to meet up to take their third brother to rehab. One brother has flown in from New York for the occasion. His sexual orientation is a point of contention with his other brother, a recovering drug addict whose wife walked out on him that day and took the kids with her. Election Day coverage is ever-present through TV and radio coverage, but when the next president is announced, their reactions are surprising.
What worked best for me in For Spacious Sky was the brief, strained dialogue between the brothers about their differences. The brother from New York is frustrated that he never felt comfortable introducing his partner to the rest of his family, while the brother back home feels abandoned and resentful. Tempers flare and these brothers come to an understanding. Together, they drive off into the distance with a beautiful country backdrop, celebrating as the radio announces Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.
The Phone Call
Sally Hawkins plays Heather, a soft-spoken woman answering the phones at a crisis hotline. Her life is changed when a man voiced by Jim Broadbent calls in claiming he has taken enough pills to end his life. He doesn’t want her to send an ambulance or try to save him, but instead, he wants someone to talk to before he dies.
The Phone Call is a deceptively simple concept that gives Hawkins and Broadbent plenty of room to explore their characters. Hawkins' performance is impressive considering she is never on-screen with Broadbent, and though Broadbent is never seen and only heard, he builds a true connection with Hawkins as Heather. These characters have only known each other for minutes, but their conversation becomes deeply personal very quickly. When the inevitable comes to pass, it is heartbreaking, and it changes Heather.
On a last note about The Phone Call, I found it encouraging that actors like Hawkins and Broadbent were lending their talents to this film and providing it with a strong center. A film like The Phone Call will succeed or fail on its two main characters, and they brought sensitivity and compassion to their characters and to the subject matter of suicide.