Every once and a while you come across a film that feels like it is saying something important, but you can’t really decipher if it truly is or if you’re just being hypnotized by the look or the sound of the film. Brent Roske’s African Chelsea is that type of film for me. It looks gorgeous, has a smooth jazz quality to its editing and its characters are shot in such a way that you are intrigued by their most minute features. It all just feels important, like I’m supposed to herald it as genius, and yet… I don’t necessarily “get” what it is that it is saying, if anything. What is the message?
Chelsea (Corinne Becker) is an exotic dancer in Hollywood on the outs with her mother (Sally Kirkland). Chelsea makes a poor decision one evening after work, and the dance club’s bouncer/bodyguard (Tosa Oghbagado) finds himself there to pick up the pieces (apropos, since, had he been doing his job, there wouldn’t be have been any trouble to worry about). I think. Describing it is far harder than I imagined.
The film’s editing manages to mix everything in fluidly, as well as non-linearly, so you very much experience the film while in the middle of a narrative fog, a device heightened by the look of the film. Highlighting shallow depth of field and severe vignetting, the imagery feels ethereal, as if you’re experiencing the short with your eye’s half-open. It’s a unique look that is as soothing as it is disconcerting.
On sheer technical merit and competence, this film is top shelf short film material. Whether my feeble mind grasps the subtlety at play, or finding correctly or incorrectly that it is all surface with no substance seems moot to me, because that is going to be open to interpretation to every person who watches it. Some folks are going to find something exceptional contained therein, some folks are going to mock it as pretentious and still others are going to be like me, standing there with a handful of glitter wondering if it’s real or just some fool’s gold.
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