Watch the Rhine (Short Film)

13 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Watch the Rhine” is writer-director Taylor Dan Lucas’ University of Central Arkansas undergraduate thesis film, and it’s considered a smaller project than one might expect to come out from the school’s digital filmmaking program. But “smaller” does not mean it’s any less effective. It’s quite a strong short film, and its minimalism works in its favor. It gives more of a lasting impression because we’re not watching a film as much as living it. The execution is intimate, the actors are extremely convincing, and there’s a great deal of atmosphere throughout.

What I mean by “smaller” is that it’s mostly a two-character piece set in one location, which is unusual, considering it takes place in World War II. But this is not a war epic, and there’s hardly any action to be found here. It’s just a short drama about two soldiers from opposite sides and how they react, and even relate, to each other. That’s it. And you know what? That’s actually pretty good.

“Watch the Rhine” takes place in a forest somewhere in France, 1944. The story begins with Jim (Schafer Bourne), an American soldier, awakening alone in a foxhole. Alone and confused, he frantically hikes through the forest in the hopes of finding his unit. Soon, he comes across Curt (Nick Lewellen), a German soldier/medic. Jim sees that Curt is unarmed and seemingly alone, so, not knowing what to do, he holds him and forces him to trek along with him. As they go further, they come to trust one another and even form a sort of bond.

That’s the main idea that Lucas goes with in this film, and he manages to make the simplicity of this premise quite effective. He’s aided by two very convincing actors in the central roles, the costumes they wear which look authentic, and a great amount of atmosphere, thanks to the film’s directors of photography, River Shelman and Corey Shelman.

Something else that works in the film’s favor is the lack of music score. I got to see the original rough cut of this film months ago, and I heard that Lucas and the film’s producer, J. Cole Lansden, were planning to arrange a score for the finished film. I was concerned because I thought the film would have been stronger without it, because the cut I originally saw was pretty damn solid. And it pleasantly surprised me that there was no score in the end. Honestly, the film doesn’t need it. If the execution and acting is great, then the film doesn’t need music to tell how the audience is supposed to feel. That was a good move on the filmmakers’ part.

If I did have a problem with the film, it’s that I would have liked it to run a little longer. The ending comes a little too quickly, which you could argue shadows abruptness of this type of situation and environment, and I feel there’s a key shot missing. I don’t know; maybe I would have liked to see more of these two together. But that’s just me nitpicking, and this does add to tragedy of this situation/environment. You accept what you can get, and what I got was a very short but nonetheless very powerful drama.

You can watch the film here: https://vimeo.com/92346956

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