Eva Riley, a well-known and talented British director of shorts, perfectly captures the effects of family tradition and social prejudice in her 14-minute drama appropriately called Patriot. No wonder this short film was selected to compete for the Short Film Palme d’ Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
In the aftermath of a series of racial tensions in a rural British community, the young 11-year old Hannah (played by the new young talent Halle Kidd) bumps into a boy (Rafael Constantin) from a forbidden district. They play together, although different in every possible way; she’s native British, he’s a gipsy living in a trailer. But even though they initially get along, eventually things go wrong, and the film seems to end where it started. Hannah unfortunately lives a brainwashed existence, influenced by her chauvinistic far-right and foul-mouthed kin.
The opening and closing of this short film is framed by an English patriotic hymn called Jerusalem, celebrating the rich heritage of the native Brits. But while the film starts with Hannah singing in pride, it ends with the ambiguity between faithfulness to her own cultural mores and values and the shame of how she got moulded into a racist.
Patriot‘s strength lies in its symbolism. Hannah leaves her father (Michael Elkin) wearing their red cross-flag like a superhero would wear his cape. Standing tall and fierce, she seems to not be afraid of the unexpected, until the moment she bumps into a gipsy boy. When she returns home, there is no trace of the flag; she has put it away just like her short-sighted attitude.
The use of space also adds to the themes of the film. The closer she gets to the boy, the closer the camera approaches them, but nonetheless, the montage techniques are kept at a bare minimum and one should definitely pay close attention to the mise-en-scène. Riley’s approach of distance and proximity between the characters symbolises their relationship and emotional attachment. There are no flash-backs and forwards. The entire narrative looks like a continuous shot, which almost literally sucks the audience into the story.
Riley leaves her audience abashed, making us aware of any negative stance we take toward other cultures and of the discriminating behaviour we ourselves are guilty of. At the same time, she also takes us back to those good old times of our childhood innocence by showing us in only 5 minutes how easy it was back then to get over social prejudice and accept each other as equals. Although Patriot ends like it started, the circle is not completely round, because one can tell from her face that Hannah struggles internally with who she truly is, and who she is expected to be.
Check Eva Riley’s website for more information and a trailer.