'A SHADOW OF DARA'
- Directed by Peter Stilla -
From Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Solaris' (1972) to Justin Lin's 'Star Trek Beyond' (2016) the fascination with what the Universe holds amongst its planets has brought numerous stories on screen to feed our curisity and to quench the thirst born out of the belief that life is not exclusive to planet Earth.
We travel in time and space, we see worlds fold and unfold, spaceships slalom through galaxies of stars and planets and thus a much bigger picture is brought to our attention. And then of course, conflict arises amongst the populations inhabiting different planets.
A 15 min short sci-fi film trying to encompass all of that is somewhat surprising. 'The Shadow of Dara', a short film by Estonian director, Kirill Proskura, is a courageous endeavour. It is rich in content and fast paced; worlds collide, people travel back in time to undo disasters and attempt to reshape the present and future. The story in 'Shadow of Dara' is strong, intense and it's got all the right ingredients: plot, turning point, clash of interests/wants, complex characters and well delineated worlds.
It looks like pride, competition, greed and the desire for supremacy are common traits for all creatures of the Universe, irrespective of where they come from and what they look like.
The protagonist, Alex, but also 'Sion of the House of Dara' has been hidnapped and captured by an alien race in order to be extracted valuable information. But Alex has 'allies' who come to his rescue. This is the most difficult part to play given the short span of time this film allows. The begining of the film comedic nuances as we get to see a brain-washed Alex who lives in an artificially created world. The 'fake characters', the stark office spaces and Alex's flight when trying to escape - all create the feel of a play station game. The difference between Alex, the robot working in an office and having to deliver 'important figures' and Alex, the tortured Kemgathian is clear. Where our belief is being shaken is when he encounters his helper/ally and his superior intelligence doesn't help him acknowledge and join her in her endeavour to save Earth and Khemgath from falling. Lines such as 'Don't f... with a God!' whilst appealing to our sense of humour, coming from the God's mouth suspends our belief (given the streetlike invective) as well as takes us away from being sympathetic towards him. He is too arrogant and human to be a good God. When Alex refuses to join forces with his allies his pride (unexplained) and rejection make the viewer feel they are looking at a stroppy child not an almighty God. The inadequency between his egocentric behaviour and our expectation of a higher intelligence in a God takes away from the ending of the film. The impact of Alex's final action is thus weakened. Could this be an indication that sci-fi movies need more screen-time for the characters and stories to develop with more clarity perhaps ? Given the complexity and totally imaginary space the story unfolds in, one might say that is a fair argument. We would have liked to see more action and hear less dialogue in the second part of the film but we understand the time limitation makes it difficult to achieve such a thing.
Unfortunately the sound track doesn't manage to mesh with the scenes, the acting and the world which the story wants to create. It distracts from all of the above.
The cinematography is crafty and engaging. It adds value to the story. The hand held technique is particularly in sync with the action in the scene on the ship where Mark gets the ally to travel back into Alex's virtual world to wake him up to reality. The lighting also concurs to the clear delineation of the two worlds: sharp and cold in the virtual world, dramatic and full of shadows in the underworld they are all trying to escape through a pod.
The voice of the enemy is beautifully done in a recognisible manner reminding of Tolkien's Gollum. This character portrays that which we cannot escape. It is a superior fatal force we are dealing with, a force that in this film will destroy 'Kemgath and Earth' no matter how many times the protagonists will try to rewrite their destiny.
Despite the negative spin at the end of the movie, this is a story to be watched and perhaps developed into a feature film someday.