Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

All things unfair

As a pleasant-looking man in a business suit walks down the street, a woman huddled against a wall attracts his attention. He good-naturedly drops some money in her cup, but his thoughtful gesture goes awry.

Meet Scottie. Fortune invariably smiles on him, and it is consuming him with guilt. At work he is the golden boy of the moment. He can apparently do no wrong, even though—by his own account anyway—he doesn’t do much of anything at all. Too bad for him he has a conscience. Or maybe it’s a nagging sense of social justice.

This is the setup for a new short film by Chris Esper. A New Jersey-born transplant to Rhode Island, according to his web site, Esper is currently based in Massachusetts. He is a busy young filmmaker, who has worked in pretty much all aspects of film and video and who already has several other short films under his belt. Please Punish Me’s screenplay was written by Rich Camp and the story is by Tom Paolino.

Scottie is played by David Sackal who, in this role anyway, comes pretty close to being a dead ringer for Jason Schwartzman. You can also see a bit of Steve Carell in his stare. That works pretty well for a character who is essentially a befuddled everyman.

Esper calls his 13-minute movie a comedy, and it certainly has all the trappings of one. Scottie’s boss and the grunting, cigar-chomping men he is priming for Scottie’s appearance are like characters out of a cartoon. But beyond all the exaggeration going on around him, Scottie is one of those film characters whose absurd situation reveals a deep longing to make sense of the unfair world around him. That’s something that goes back at least as far as Chaplin. The central joke is that someone who has it all—luck, success, money—would feel so terrible about it.

Scottie’s guilt eventually leads him to an establishment where he hopes to expunge his guilt by paying to be punished. There he meets Michelle. And, yes, nice people attempting to have kinky sex is a well-established comedy situation. That gives supporting players Mark Carter and Lorrie Bacon ample opportunity to have some fun.

As I have said before, there generally two kinds of short films: 1) those that are perfectly self-contained and tell a story that does not need a longer running time and 2) those that leave you feeling that the story could have gone on longer and we wish it could have. I would place Please Punish Me in the latter category. Sackal and Joanna Donofrio, who plays Michelle, make an appealing couple and we would like to learn more about both of them and see where their relationship might go. On the other hand, the film’s abrupt and surprising ending is satisfying on its own terms.

I suspect it is only a matter of time until we see a feature-length film from Esper and—whether it is a longer version of this one or something completely different—I will look forward to it.

Here is the film’s trailer.

Please Punish Me trailer from Chris Esper on Vimeo.

-S.L., 14 August 2015

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