Leah Chen Baker’s short film Cinephilia takes the simple scenario of a male (Zachary Le Vey) and female (Jenny Joslin) lead as they may have been presented in cinema over the years. Initially it’s just a silent portrait of a couple, not unlike someone posing for a photo; obviously the very early days of cinema, before anyone knew that it was more than just photography with movement. The next short-within-the-short presents a silent, sepia-tinted film comedy of boy meets girl, followed by the black and white, sound-friendly noir tale of a detective run afoul of a femme fatale. Everything wraps up with a colorful presentation of a film that hearkens to European art cinema in the ’60s, all sunglasses and existential angst.
A short film like this lives and dies by its faithfulness to the cinematic eras it is seeking to emulate. And in that way, Cinephilia succeeds across the board as a quality example of each. You easily could believe that each segment could have existed in their time.
That said, however, what is the main statement the film is making, if it is making one at all? Is this just a neat novelty of a short film anthology within a short film? I leave that up to individual interpretation, but for me I didn’t get much from the short beyond the novelty of it.
Which is not as big a criticism as it perhaps may sound because, again, the film does its experiment well. If you showed me these films in a shorts block separate from each other, and without the hints of credits, I’d likely not be entirely convinced each short starred the same people. It’s not just transformations in cinematic style, it’s transformation in all aspects.
In the end, I think the filmmakers did a brilliant job recreating the different genres and eras they sought to recreate. Nothing but high marks there all around. Do I think the entire short comes together as more than an experimental novelty? For me, not so much, however I’d be interested to see if someone else found a greater narrative through all the films, perhaps a philosophical throughline regarding the old tale of boy meets girl, that I may have missed.
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