Short films have this frustrating tendency to cram content down audiences’ throats in a fervour of five or ten minutes, often forgetting to gently coax out stories lyrically and imaginatively. They’ve only got enough budget for a ten minute film, they think, so they make it worth their while. What a mistake; what a cop out! British filmmaking duo Mathy & Fran have proudly and successfully avoided that stressful frenzy in their stripped back and curious film, ELSEWHERE.
The pair describe the film as, “Two ‘lovers on the run’ head into the middle of nowhere, armed only with strange trinkets and a silver boombox.” But it’s not as simple, or as frivolous as just that. The two lovers are deeply eccentric: not in the way you might describe Wes Andersen characters, but they legitimately don’t make sense; they are out of this world. The narrative in ELSEWHERE is pieced together in a way that’s disorientating (but still engaging) to follow—the pair pop from one idyllic landscape to the next, talking in disjointed rivers of words that leave the audience somehwat in the dark.
It’s playful in that way—there’s no shoving down throats here; you have to assemble what’s going on and discover who this strange pair really are. The aesthetic is ultra crisp (shot on a Red One), the soundtrack is delicately sparse and almost completely diegetic, and the art direction is superb: retaining a timeless, vintage look of buttoned up, sensible coats and collars; tape decks and a beaten up car.
We spoke to Mathy & Fran about ELSEWHERE and the dynamics of working as a filmmaking duo, something that most directors avoid, preferring to direct individually:
We didn’t set out to work in a partnership—it just sort of happened. We were studying film together, fell in love, and it seemed natural to start sharing ideas and directing together. The effect of living and working together means we end up totally consumed by the projects we’re involved in which can be tough, but is ultimately a luxury of being able to live and breathe what you love. We never set rules or boundaries in terms of who does what, but have developed a very instinctive and natural way of working together—in effect, we share everything. It’s all a question of trust.
The writing side of things is slightly different for us and we usually pass a script back and forth – writing in isolation to each other. With ELSEWHERE it meant we initially had two completely separate first drafts, yet they turned out to be remarkably similar.
PORTABLE: We really got some intense Submarine vibes in ELSEWHERE: from those extreme wide shots to the quirks of the lovers and their story, and even down to Cath’s red lips and Nick’s haircut. Were those parallels intentional or was it just a case of British filmmakers feeding off the same inspiration?
We loved Submarine too, although ELSEWHERE was actually conceived and written long before we ever saw it. The coincidence probably stems more from a love of similar things—the aesthetic and narrative parallels coming from the fact that both films lean towards a passion for cinema. ELSEWHERE took a lot of inspiration from road movies like Badlands as well as a lot of American indie directors like Gus Van Sant. Narratively, it all sparked from watching Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night, and stylistically there’s a huge nod to Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou. The influences were pretty eclectic, but often deliberately transparent and we hope celebratory – such as the reference to Jeff Wall’s A Sudden Gust Of Wind.
Why did you choose to leave so many details about the characters in ELSEWHERE unsaid? It showed impressive restraint and added a whole other curious element to the film, was it difficult to contain this story in a short timeframe?
We both really favour shorts that don’t aim to tell a neat story and allow themselves to be more fragmented or open-ended. We had a lot of history for the two characters in ELSEWHERE that we chose not to include in the script. We often find ourselves leaning more towards the unspoken or unexplained, and the key importance with ELSEWHERE was that the film be emotionally and visually led.
We’ve always felt that shorts should be more like songs than stories. You get an incredible amount of freedom with short filmmaking that simply can’t exist with features, and for us it’s a really exciting medium to work in—being able to pass on an emotion, or a feeling, without necessarily having to show the whole picture.
We definitely want to make features in the future, but think it’s a mistake to see shorts simply as stepping stones—they’re a very different beast and can open up all sorts of opportunities to experiment, explore, and find out what works.
ELSEWHERE‘s script and the theatrical way the lovers are portrayed had a very Absurd feel to it, reminiscent of the great Absurd Theatre writers like Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Did you draw inspiration from Absurdism and those writers?
We’re definitely fans of that kind of Absurd writing. We wanted ELSEWHERE to feel like the two characters were almost holding separate conversations—talking at each other rather than to each other. The challenge was in finding a way to do this that didn’t alienate them from each other, creating that sense of shorthand – the constant playing of games and idle conversation showing their closeness to each other. That kind of disconnected dialogue is definitely a bit Pinter inspired, but we’re also huge fans of Hal Hartley and the way that he constructs dialogue was another massive influence.