Fox / Alepou
written by Andreea Mihalcea
written by Andreea Mihalcea
Facing the death of a loved one translates into an in-between moment that changes who we are, how we value the present and rethink the past. The strikingly bleak short film Fox, recently awarded in Locarno, craftily plays upon the notion of liminality from a psychoanalytical point of view.
A middle-aged woman and single-mother of three is putting on make-up in front of the mirror, as she is about to leave the house and meet up with her boyfriend. Her two younger kids are reading fairy-tales while the family dog is sickly laying on the floor right next to them. But before stepping out the door, her disapproving and rebellious teenage son, Stephanos, lashes out at her, in an outburst of anger and aggression. What none of them know is that their lives are about to irreversibly change once this particular hot summer day is over.
Talented newcomer Greek director Jacqueline Lentzou draws up right from the outset a specific type of viewer engagement "contract" and employs narrative clichés as a means to interrogate how remorse and guilt related mechanisms are formed. As the mother is driving along a dangerous road, visibly distressed, it’s not difficult for the audience to figure out how this elliptic scene will end; especially if the soundtrack features reflexive popular references to famous Bowie songs, such as Modern Love or Mother. Meanwhile, back at the family house, even though the phone is ringing incessantly, and therefore distancing the viewer, no one is picking up. As far as the children know, the "mother fox" is simply out, somewhere. This means that Stephanos can invite his girlfriend over, to hang out together and have sex, as most adolescents would, when given the opportunity. The same cliché logic goes for how the younger brother and sister are depicted: innocently enjoying the company of their soon-to-be substitute parents while dancing, sun-bathing, or playfully splashing each other with water. The audience, however, is fully aware that they’re witnessing Stephanos’ last chance at freedom, since grown-up responsibilities are waiting right around the corner.
Our expectations in relation to this idyllic portrayal of ordinary feel-good family moments are carefully being subverted through an efficiently elaborated sound-design and cinematography. The life-death dichotomy that is hinted at thematically is minutely reflected also in terms of formal contradictions. For instance, ominously amplified airplane sounds or poignant moments of silence are mixed with generally comforting direct sound ambience noises. In the same way, the contrast between shots suffused with natural warm daylight and the death-linked night scenes painterly enhances the overall paradise lost quality of the film. Additionally, a potential close reading of the camerawork, based on alternating handheld eye-level shots with a few fixed bird’s eye views, could perhaps allude to a symbolic mother’s gaze, still directed at her children.
When Stephanos finally picks up the phone at night, all that he’s able to do is quietly ask "What?", showing for the first time outward vulnerability. The following morning, a sense of general inertia has already seized control over the "foxes".