13 Pieces of the Universe (Short Film)

17 May


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“13 Pieces of the Universe” is an Arkansas-made short film that follows a trait I’ve seen in a few other films at the Little Rock Film Festival, where it premiered—quiet. I admire a film, even a short, that has the nerve to be quiet every now and then so that we can take in the atmosphere and situations that are present. I’ve seen it in “Sidearoadia,” “Watch the Rhine,” and especially the feature documentary “Rich Hill”; this is pretty strong material as well.

Written and directed by Tara Sheffer, “13 Pieces of the Universe” tells the coming-of-age of a 16-year-old girl named Sara (Emily Cotton) in the Arkansas delta. The title is based on a poem that Sara remembers, which is Jamey Jones’ “Elsewhere in the Universe,” which states that there are pieces of the universe within each of us. Indeed, within Sara’s coming-of-age story, we can get about 13 individual occurrences in this 20-minute film that create senses of themes that stay true to the story structure, such as uncertainty, choice, stability, emotion, the little things in life, and so on. It’s told in a story that shows Sara in different situations such as canoeing with her friend, seeing a boy in town, unknowingly abandoning her friend for a while, dealing with her parents’ divorce, and so on, until a tragedy occurs.

This is a beautifully-made film that doesn’t have a lot of dialogue and only has a few conversations between characters, and relies on visuals to further suck its audience in by letting us breathe in what it’s getting across to us. There’s a lot of great atmosphere in this film, as the South is shown in a way that can either be seen as a wonderful thing or as a haunting memory, depending on the conditions. And I think the reason I liked this short so much was that it managed to speak volumes by saying very little and showing something as artful as, say, a burning forest as Sara watches from a distance.

In the end, I got a great feel of the film’s landscape, I bought the character’s emotions, and I felt the grief that was left by an unfortunate circumstance at the end of the film. There’s a sense of loss present in this film, not just for something physical but for something psychological as well. It’s mostly told through visual storytelling and by the end, it requires you to think about what it means not only in this girl’s life but also in your own life. After seeing it, I asked myself questions such as what are the little things I enjoy in my own life and do I take them for granted; whom can I rely on; what made me the person I am today; and so on. That it can bring out such a reaction from me convinced me that this short film worked wonderfully, and I recommend it sincerely.

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