As somebody who has himself dabbled in the production of short films (one of my college films once won an award, presented to me by…wait for it..Lembit Öpik) I speak with experience when I say they are a difficult thing to get right. Tasked with telling a story within the space of ten minutes, it’s no easy feat to make something that’s entertaining, thought provoking, and, perhaps most importantly, memorable in what are usually extremely restrictive circumstances.
It’s because of said circumstances that these little cinematic horderves are shamefully overlooked, while the best ones often prove more interesting and innovative than most feature-length films which grace our cinema screens on a weekly basis. Case in point is Jakob Lewis Barnes’ latest short, Harlequin; a film that manages to do more in six-minutes, with a limited budget (£575, in fact) and locations, than Michael Bay could ever achieve with a two-hour-plus, multi-million dollar, CGI-fest.
Timely in the sense that it’s been released during a recent spate of creepy clown appearances all over the country – Jakob has assured me this has nothing to do with him – the story revolves around Charles the clown as he suffers from a mental break. Having somewhat painted himself into a corner by focusing on such a character – it’s virtually impossible to not immediately make comparisons to the Joker in a post-Dark Knight world – Barnes just about manages to make you forget about such similarities through what is a brilliantly performed and surprisingly confident piece of work.
The moment in which you become fully invested in the film happens just over a minute into it, and comes from something that’s as simple as a smile. As Kenton Hall’s Charles warms up for his show with a bottle of whiskey and a cigarette, feigning a grin through the smoke, you can almost physically feel your interest levels rise as a result of the strange image. It’s Hall himself, the writer, director and star of A Dozen Summers, who puts in a genuinely unhinged performance that’s worthy of your attention in itself.
Another of Harlequin’s highlights is its impressive sound design, which features evocative music from Andrew Stamp that helps enrich the drama. With the addition of some inventive visuals, it’s obvious that Jakob Lewis Barnes is an expert juggler when it comes to writing and directing film. Whilst it’s a shame that the initial idea couldn’t have been built upon with a bigger budget, there’s enough going on within the six-minutes of Harlequin to warrant multiple watches.
This may lack the poetic intrigue of his first short film, Layla, but you can’t help but get the impression that this is just another stepping stone for talented filmmaker who is still honing and developing his craft. And it’s that prospect which is perhaps most exciting of all.
Harlequin is available for viewing here. Check it out.