La Grande Fete: The 48-Hour Film Project

12 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: ****
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“La Grande Fete” is a seven-minute short made by the team Flokati Films for the 2013 Little Rock 48-Hr. Film Project. For those who don’t know how it works, it’s a competition in which filmmaking teams craft a short film in just two days. It begins when each team draws a genre. For Flokati Films, it was “Operetta.” So, they had to write, shoot, edit and compose a short film in only 48 hours!

If I thought I was impressed with the 2012 48-Hr. film “La Petite Mort,” I hadn’t seen anything yet.

Directed by Johnnie Brannon and written by three members of Little Rock’s Red Octopus Theater comedy troupe (Jason Willey, Luke Rowlan, and Sandy Baskin), “La Grande Fete” is a remarkable achievement in what dedicated filmmakers can do in just one weekend.

The story: Debi (Karen Q. Clark) brings her new beau, a shy plumber named Andy (Jay Clark), to meet her friends. Things seem fine until Debi’s charming ex, Blade Diamond (Sam Clark), arrives and convinces her to take him back. Can Andy gain enough confidence to fight for Debi’s love. Will Debi make the right choice in the end? The story itself is as simple and old-fashioned as a typical romantic comedy, but “La Grande Fete” isn’t about story. It’s about one important thing: making people laugh. I’ve seen this short with four different audiences at four different film festivals, and each screening I attended had an uproar of laughter all throughout, from beginning to end. And I was among them. I think “La Grande Fete” is freaking hilarious! Willey, Rowlan, and Baskin create a funny script out of familiar material with funny characters and clever lines of dialogue…or should they be described as “lyrics?” Being an operetta, nothing by the characters is said generally, but musically. Everything these people say is sung loudly. This is where a lot of the comedy comes from, and it really works. Another clever “operetta” move—all of the action takes place inside one location (a house), much like a play or (pfft!) an opera.

“La Grande Fete” is a treasure of a short that made me laugh and smile all throughout, but it’s also skillfully crafted. Director-of-photography Will Scott gives the film a sort-of “you-are-there” quality, making the (intentionally-) awkward moments even more awkward and funny, the editing by Sarah Jones is quick and well-timed (important for a comedy), and I also compliment Sam Clark for not only acting as Blade Diamond (isn’t that a great name?) but also creating the score that accompanies the singing. I can’t forget to compliment the game comic actors giving funny performances; everyone in this short is so funny. Jay Clark, who I loved in John Hockaday’s “Stuck,” is effectively low-key (or as “low-key” as you can be in an operetta) while playing a shy, awkward man looking to earn love and self-respect. Sam Clark is funny in his attempt to be smooth, and the supporting cast members (Jason Willey, Moriah Patterson, Michael Goodbar, Alli Clark, Drew Ellis, and Patti Airoldi) deliver amusing lines (er, verses). But the biggest standout is Karen Q. Clark as Debi. I can’t even begin to describe how humorous, luminous, expressive, and appealing her performance is in this short; it has to be seen to be believed. She’s wonderful here.

Oh, I should also mention Brian Chambers as well, since he has some of the biggest laughs as a one-man running gag, but… You know what? I’m sorry, but a review for “La Grande Fete” simply won’t do. You have background information, you have a Smith’s Verdict rating (the highest one, I might add), and now…

NOTE: You have the film. (Vimeo link: https://vimeo.com/101564615)

2ND NOTE: While watching this, be on the lookout for three important things: a plumber character named Andy Benoit, a horn for a prop, and the line of dialogue, “Tell me the truth!” Those were the three requirements for all 2013 48-Hour films. I won’t dare give away how they work in a horn in this film.

3RD NOTE: “La Grande Fete” received three awards at the 48-Hr 2013 Awards Ceremony: Best Music, Best Actress, and Best Film.

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