Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Fatal tiles

The best thing I ever did was to start a movie blog. I am amazed at the treasures that periodically tumble over my virtual transom.

The latest is a short film called Board to Death. It is the first release of Broken Lens Productions of Luton, England. They describe it as a “British neo noir indie” and a “zero budget short film” and note that it was nearly a year in the making.

My usual experience with shorts is that they feel like feature films that were condensed in length for budgetary reasons and/or made as a sampler as a calling card or for a possible longer version later on. In contrast, at 16½ minutes this flick feels like it is exactly the length it was meant to be. Written by Kazi Zaman, it is loosely adapted from a short story by Charlie Fish with the intriguing title “Death by Scrabble.”

The film’s director is Dammie Akinmola, who is also Broken Lens’s composer and who provides the music here. The filmmaker’s musical background comes as no surprise since my immediate impression of the film is that it has the polished look of a classy music video. It is also a great example of how beautiful black and white cinematography can be. The lighting and shadows are mesmerizing and the close-ups of the actors make us feel their skin texture and smell their sweat or smell their perfume.

The set-up is simple enough and disturbing. A husband and wife are playing a dangerous game (quite literally) with each other. Some kind of loan shark and/or enforcer, he is obsessed, possessive and violently jealous. Teasing and enigmatic, she clearly likes messing with his head—and maybe with his friends. The action alternates between their confrontations across the game board and the husband’s acting out of his jealous rages. It is possible to take it all quite at face value, but we can also choose to see the husband’s flights of revenge as happening inside his own imagination—since they have the feel of flashbacks or flashforwards.

There is a serious amount of suspense and tension packed into the film’s brief scenes. Adding to the disorientation of this dark world is the fact that we do not have clear bearings as to where we are in the world. There is an assortment of accents and names that could place us in numerous European locations—including, of course, Luton where it was filmed.

Among the cast, Joshua Expósito carries most of the weight as the point-of-view character, narrator and face that is on screen practically the entire running time. And he does what he needs to do. He makes us take him seriously and he creeps us out big time. As his maddeningly manipulative spouse, Victoria Ashford’s job is to convince us that her charisma and personality could hold men in thrall and, with that signature film noir femme fatale cigarette smoke framing her supremely confident face, she does the job.

Board to Death is being submitted to film festivals, so that will be your best chance to see it in the near term. You can read more about it and find lots of links to lots more info on the official web site.

It’s good to see that film noir is still alive and kicking. No matter how much tastes and technology change over the decades, it nice to be reminded that some things remain constant. Like, for instance, the fact that some guys should just never trust a dame.

-S.L., 11 February 2015

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