Prepare to have your mind taken out to a fancy dinner before it gets blown by writer/director Keyvan Sheikhalishahi’s enigmatic short Divertimento. A close-up of a checkered floor pulls back to reveal a woman’s dark figure in a doorway. She is walking closer. A male voice says, “There was once a castle, huge and silent. It held a secret inside, something terrifying…”
On the dark roads through the forest leading to the castle, Jonas (Kellan Lutz) rides in the back of a premium automobile wearing a tuxedo. The driver stops the car when its headlights illuminate Cathy (Torrey DeVitto) sprawled out on the ground. Jonas finds she is also heading to the castle. It turns out they both received hand-delivered invitations and paid a fortune to play due to the prize being so great. The game indicts somebody will be murdered. They then have to find out who the murderer is and kill them. The guns will be loaded with blanks. Jonas offers to take Cathy to a safer place, but she warns that the game they are going to play at the castle is run by the kind of people you don’t want to turn back on. Jonas asks her how she came to be lying on this road. Cathy has no idea. The car is now within the huge and silent castle grounds.
“…the game they are going to play at the castle is run by the kind of people you don’t want to turn back on.”
First and foremost, Divertimento is one fancy ride. It takes a lot of attention to detail to keep up the heights of opulence the filmmaker maintains throughout. The location anchors the perception of luxury, which is then reflected in the well-cut wardrobes. As shorts are calling cards for what the director has to offer, Sheikhalishahi shows he can deliver flawlessly elegant production value. Even the special pyrotechnics at the end are swanky as hell. Everything on display looks just as good, if not better, than something made for a haute couture fashion design house. The haunting cinematography by Jean-Claude Aumont is an impeccable promenade of sculpted shadows.
The screenplay is quite ambitious, attempting to pull off a high-concept reality modification in a 30-minute running time. There is concrete emulation of the feats achieved by Lynch’s Fugue Trilogy and Nolan’s Inception. This fusion of mind-bending masters actually brings the complexity into greater focus. Your brain’s record needle will stay firmly in the groove Sheikhalishahi sets up. Some viewers may be able to use this short as a decoding key when re-watching bafflers like Mulholland Drive or Tenet. While the coda feels like it is rushed into a little quickly, that is due to Divertimento having a feature-length plot that has to be abbreviated to fit the short.
Some shorts would snap apart if stretched out to full length, but Sheikhalishahi has more than enough scope to span a feature, a long one at that. Divertimento is a dark puzzle box of a picture with a sheen of refinement that will impress you from the jump. Once you see it, you will see all the indications as to how much fun could be had with a feature film version of this story.
"…a dark puzzle box of a picture with a sheen of refinement..."