Directed by Sheila Nortley and written by Kay I. Jegede, the arrival of a mysterious stranger compels a protective mother to confront the demons of a distant past, and embrace the opportunity for a hopeful future. Starring: Colette Dalal Tchantcho, Raksha Hoost, Amaziah Benard, Dean Louis Browne, Dimitris Kafataris, Christian McIntyre, Femi Oyeniran, Orlando Parker and Oscar Salami.
The third in a series of “I Am” short films from Four8, reintroducing audiences to biblical stories through modern settings and individual journeys, in an attempt to present viewers with an opportunity to connect with them based on their story rather than simply their religious origins. With the title and its focus being on Mary, you’d be forgiven for initially imagining that this is going to be a story that you’ve heard before or some form of rehashing of the nativity that appears every year at Christmas but it’s not. Based on the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’, it’s a story of fear, persecution, motherhood and loss, it focuses on the victims of heinous actions rather than the actions themselves, which was a smart, modern and more relatable way to present this story.
As with the previous short I Am Pilate, there are great, sharp and modern locations with a simplistic yet elegant design which creates a great visual, especially when set against with the war-torn settings for the film’s flashbacks. Nortley’s directorial style changes to fit whichever part of the story it’s telling, it takes on a more jagged and survival tone in its moments of war but has a much more still and quiet quality as it takes in the discussion between its two lead women. Its effectiveness is only emphasised further by the score which is builds an extremely atmospheric edge to the film. The style feels very much akin to what you might find in a dystopian series and the story could quite possibly lend itself to a larger exploration.
One of the best things about the writing with this short is that it’s perfectly modernised to the point that even though you can see all the biblical aspects of the story, it immediately feels like a modern story. It has relatable and sympathetic themes that have been easily translated into a more accessible version of this biblical story. The dialogue is simple but effective, it draws out the emotion well and both leaves you to connect the dots while making it easy for any viewer to do so.
Tchantcho and Hoost make for a great pair, they play off each other well as the story intensifies and both bring an individualised style of emotion. Tchantcho’s Mary brings a more subtle edge to her emotions, they very slowly build to the surface until the story hits its peak. Hoost’s Hanna on the other hand brings an edge of darkness, you can feel the emotions lying just below the surface until they break through. It’s two sides of the same coin, motherly love, which gives them an instant connection through that shared experience and you can feel that in their performances.
I Am Mary is the strongest of the “I Am” series so far, it succinctly achieves the idea of modernising biblical stories to make them relatable and accessible to viewers. Its two lead actors anchor the film and physicalise the emotion which the direction is bringing through and is then pushed further with a solid score and smooth editing work. The cinematography particularly helps to give that modern feel with its balance of sharpness and grit. This film takes the work done with the previous two shorts and pushes it further to something that’s suavely translated to modern day in a familiar yet fresh style.