Written by director Brandon T. Bailey and star Liana Marie Zaino, Cici’s Sonata is a glimpse into how trauma can affect a person years down the line. Promising young pianist Ciana (Zaino) is prepping for an audition, but the pressure is getting to her. Voices (Allison Brewster-Franzetti, Tatienne Hendricks-Tellefsen, Chloe Castro-Santos, Cynthia Leigh Heim) pelt the musical artist with disparaging comments such as she can’t play very well and she’s not good enough, among others. This sends Ciana into a psychotic episode as she’s having flashbacks to a traumatic event from when she was a little girl (Shayna Safirstein).
The most remarkable thing about this short is that it’s Bailey and Zaino’s first screenplay. For the director, the horror thriller is his first credit of any kind. Zaino has two previous shorts as an actor, but this is her first time at the writers’ table. The way the story highlights the titular character’s talent and her intense past is nothing short of captivating. The voices, while talking over each other and different characters, never overwhelm the senses. Any line that is meant to convey something important becomes ever so slightly louder than the rest to stand out.
Beyond the harrowing yet precise script, Cici’s Sonata is also a stunning look at the importance of production and art design, as well as lighting. The shadows of the barren room the voices lock her in are ominous. The stark red in a long corridor conveys the hell that is Cianna’s mind. The walls of that same hallway are covered in music sheets with awful comments scrawled on them. The people around the lead don’t notice, further plunging the audience into Cici’s mindset in an eerie way.
“…Ciana is prepping for an audition, but the pressure is getting to her.”
Zaino is perfect. Her fear of the voices, her anxiety about the audition, and her feelings of impostor syndrome are all conveyed with nuance and sincerity. The voices all do an excellent job of sowing distrust in one’s mind and feelings. Safirstein, whose innocence bursts off the screen, radiates the only positivity to be found.
The editing by Bailey, Dillon Bentlage, and Luigi Benvisto is spot on. The precise cuts dynamically amplify Cianna’s feelings. The quick flashes of what happened add a sense of uneasiness and dread to everything that follows. When combined with the design work, this short looks better than some big studio feature-length titles.
Cici’s Sonata is a masterclass of filmmaking on every level. The production and art design are first-rate. Zaino’s lead performance proves she has that elusive “it” factor, while Brewster-Franzetti, Hendricks-Tellefsen, Castro-Santos, and Heim are splendid as the discombobulating voices. The editing is flawless, placing audiences directly into the headspace of the traumatized main character. Not every short needs to be expanded upon, but should Bailey and Zaino feel so inclined here, it would be most welcome and assuredly a masterpiece just like this is.
For more information, visit the official Cici’s Sonata site.
"…a stunning look at the importance of production and art design..."