Watching a slew of short films back to back in any film festival can be a tawdry experience. They’re usually filled with film school graduation projects where phrases like quirky, whimsical and the overly personal come to mind. This time round, the audience was saved from such cliches and what we saw were a fine collection of shorts coming from all kinds of interesting angles.
Shorts are also notoriously difficult to get right, just like short stories compared to novels. You’ve got to fit it all in: the characters, a plot (if you have one), and some kind of dramatic tension in a brief 10 to 15 minutes. And let’s not forget the paltry budget and such ad hoc set-ups like the director’s mum doing the catering. The film we’re looking at in particular is The Palace, written, directed and produced by Greek Australian and Adelaide-based Anthony Maras.
The Palace is set during the 1974 conflict in Cyprus with a young Greek Cypriot family fleeing the invading Turkish forces. It opens with a war-torn street and a Greek family, a father, a mother and their children taking refuge in a deserted palace in Lefkosia, Cyprus. Three Turkish soldiers enter the palace, the family are hiding in cupboards, the mother is trying to calm her crying a baby and hoping they will not be detected. Anthony Maras has been fortunate enough to work with a decent budget for his film.
The filming was done on location, and whatever explosions and costume department he had at his disposal, they are more than realistic. Where Maras has chosen to distribute his funds, by either acquiring a decent cinematographer or experienced actors, is in the end by the by. Because what he has managed to do with 10 minutes of filmmaking, is very effective story telling. Most of the action takes place within one room of the palace, using close angles within the claustrophobic space of the cupboard, where the family is hiding, and the audience sees the movement of the three soldiers through the slits of the cupboard.
This creates a very well managed tension within a very tight frame of play and it’s Maras’ economical use of space that is key to The Palace’s success. There is also the split juxtaposition between the perversely light humour of the soldiers and the muffled terror of the family and of what the family sees, but the soldiers don’t. Reminding us that the horror of war can only be practised by some, by not looking into the eyes of the person they are killing.