SLAMDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! The silence is deafening in writer-director Cameron Bruce Nelson’s Pillars, a nearly wordless short in which cataclysmic longing and love can be expressed only in stolen glances and furtive gestures.
The film’s only spoken dialogue is heard in its opening flashback: a serene, playful moment from the girlhood of Sarah and Rebekah, two best friends in an isolated Mennonite community. The girls play a clapping game, horse around in a secluded field, walk arm-in-arm as if there’s no one else in the world but the two of them. Within that brief, idyllic scene is a stirring evocation of blissful childlike innocence, and, more importantly, a strong intimation that there’s something deeper to Sarah and Rebekah’s friendship. There’s an obvious pull between them that’s profound and all-consuming and, within their sect, expressly forbidden.
“A pull that within their sect is expressly forbidden that won’t ever be allowed to manifest itself fully.”
Those opening moments hang heavily over the remainder of Pillars. Years later, Sarah, now a young adult (Madeline Burton), goes about both her daily chores and the rituals leading up to her (one would assume, arranged) marriage to Jacob (Walker Hare). Rebekah (Isabel Lasker) is still a part of Sarah’s small, sequestered world. But it’s evident that they’ve grown apart, and Rebekah has become steadily more frustrated in her struggles to reconnect. Only the silent inside jokes and inconspicuous mischief of their childhood days, all but verboten in adulthood, remain. And one of them is desperate to regain that carefree intimacy they once shared.
Across the film’s brief 10-minute running time, Nelson proves himself an accomplished visual storyteller, revealing essentially everything about these characters and their world through staging and performance. Nothing is overstated, yet the desires and misgivings of Sarah and Rebekah, as well as the traditionalism and piousness of their community, are conveyed remarkably by the filmmaker’s measured and concise arrangement of dialogue-free scenes.