We watch a lot of short films here at GOF. Some are good, some not so much. IN VITRO, I have to say, was one of the best short films I have seen in ages; maybe ever.
Talking to director Toby Stephens about his intentions with this film, he told me he wanted to create something not just for the sake of it, not just another shitty film for the money or because he knew it could do well. You could feel he wanted to make something real, something that mattered. He wanted the story to be not only emotionally gripping but narratively enthralling. We follow the disjointed story of a man torn between his wife’s doomed fertility attempts and his mistress’ immaturity. He is filled with anguish over losing his baby that he feels he can’t speak about because his wife is grieving physically harder than he is. It was uncomfortable but brilliant. The disjointed narrative meant that we weren’t simply following a story – we were piecing bits together, living inside this man’s mind as he himself pieced together his thoughts.
The narrative structure meant it could only have been a short and yet I wanted to keep watching for another hour. When talking to Toby about this decision and what the intention behind it was he modestly told me it was a ‘cheats way’ of adding more story into a short film, but as he expanded you could instantly tell his intentions were completely thought through.
“If you were to just play it chronologically it might play out like an episode of Eastenders, but if you loop it around and switch it up it actually reveals the complexities of something we take for granted, and how subjective having a child is.”
He spoke of how hearing stories from friends inspired him to deal with this issue, and how it is so often not dealt with. We are given a point of view rarely seen on screen or given voice in life which was refreshing and made the pain twice as affecting. A topic dealing with dual-suffering that was also felt singularly as a wholly lonely experience was a wonderful thing to depict. (In)Fertility is a hard subject to talk about let alone make a film about, because its one of the most natural thing in the world. And when people struggle to conceive they feel like failures. It’s this inherent human emotion of guilt mixed with feeling like a failure that you could read all over Rupert Penry Jones’ face. He was great as ‘Man’ – able to be both hard and soft simultaneously. By not personalising these characters Stephens left them more open to judgement and interpretation. ‘Man’ ‘Woman’ and ‘Girl’ could be anyone. Anyone dealing with this very real internal pain.
The Final Word: It was brutal and tragic and powerful as hell. I quite literally loved it.
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