Having only 17 minutes to tell a compelling story leaves a filmmaker almost no room for exposition. Rowen Kahn’s Marsha! strips the concept down to bare necessities, resulting in a powerful, streamlined film in one intense act. Kahn’s brother Aidan stars as a fictionalized version of himself, also named Aidan.
Aidan (the actor character, not the actual actor) is on a long slide down from a successful period as an actor, while his brother Rowen (the director character, not the actual director) is seeing his star rising as a director. Aidan finds himself in the humiliating position of having to act in his brother’s first film, and spends much of his between-take time scolding Rowen on his directing and explaining what, in his experience, real directors do. Physically, Aidan is playing a character who is injured, exhausted, and at the end of his rope, driven to scream out his one line, “Marsha!”
“We don’t know who Marsha is, what she did, or where she went…”
We don’t know who Marsha is, what she did, or where she went, but Aidan makes us want to know. Rowen has a specific idea of how he wants the scene to play, and requires many takes to get the performance he’s looking for. Aidan struggles to escape the hole his career is in, the literal hole his brother has cajoled him into (despite knowing he’s claustrophobic), and this twisted family power dynamic in a complex sibling rivalry. The dark humor is delightful.
In other hands, 17 minutes could be an eternity. For Aidan, stuck in a hole doing repeated takes of one line, it is, but time flies for the viewer, enjoying the increasing tension between the brothers. For most of their lives, Aidan has had the upper hand, but at this moment, the tables have turned.
Any director would be proud to create a film this good, but Marsha! is an even more impressive achievement given that it’s Kahn’s directorial debut. Kahn explains his intent in a director’s statement: “As a director, I mainly set out to tell a funny story with my brother, Aidan, but we ended up making something a lot deeper and a bit darker than we originally intended, much like our caricatures do in the short themselves. We reckon we had more fun than the characters did, however. Enjoy!”
Marsha! screened at the 2020 Annapolis Film Festival.