Directed by Vijendra Bhambhani | Reviewed by Anushka Dutta
The UAE-based short film director of “FAMED,” “AMUNET,” and “YAKSHI,” Vijendra Bhambhani, rattles us with another on-screen dramatic venture, “I AM CLOSE BY.” This film primarily encompasses the thriller genre. It incites a sense of growing anticipation mingled with foreboding suspense in its audience.
“I AM CLOSE BY” opens with a vividly scenic frame, capturing the sunlight glistening like diamonds upon the waves gushing in. The low-angle shot at the onset of the film reveals dynamic sea waves surging through the rocky terrain. The twitter of birds unified with the sound of the sea sets the mood at the very beginning. The scene then changes to a pair of playful legs waddling across the water, transitioning to a close-up tilted pan shot.
A young woman, perhaps in her 20s, seems to be enjoying her time at the beach on a bright, sunny morning. In contrast to this jolly, youthful woman, we encounter a disquieted older woman facing the sea with no flicker in her eyes, in the very next scene, juxtaposed with the sound of the church bell ringing from afar. The colors of the clothes these two women are wearing are symbolic to highlight this lucid disparity.
This contrast can be noticed throughout the film. Take, for instance, the indoor scene where Olivia is making breakfast for her mom. The eggs sizzling on the cooking pan, the freshly baked pies, freshly cut veggies, and meat arranged on the table with clean cutlery are a salient contrast to the gloomy appearance of her mother, sitting at the table as if buried in the blackness of her own thoughts. Olivia serves breakfast and tells her mother, “You look good today.” When the meal is over, the dirty dishes at the sink resemble her mother’s state of mind.
The plot of the short film plays with the lives of Elizabeth, discovered from a message in a bottle at sea, and Olivia, a small-town girl. The plot deals with heavy matters like depression, mental illnesses, suicide, child bullying, and murder. Set in delicate translucence, the director narrates a tale of melancholy, hopelessness, and mental stagnation leading to one’s ultimate death. Be it suicide or murder, the misery does subside.
A mother killed at the hands of depression leaves behind an orphan of four called Elizabeth. Quoting Beth herself, “When we live a life without a purpose, we throw ourselves on the paths of misery such that there is darkness, but nothing.” The voices you hear all around you when you’re young turn into the voices in your head when you grow older. In a way, we, humans, are volatile in nature. You either internalize what you’ve been told all your life or end up with a brutal projection of your traumas onto others. Unable to carry the burden of the meaninglessness of our existence, some, like Elizabeth, try to find their purpose by any means necessary.
Written by Ruhi Sayyed, ‘I AM CLOSE BY’ makes one question who the real lunatic is. Is it the murderer who lulls your despair, or the collective effort of the socially acceptable that thrusts one into madness? Is it the medically sanctioned mentally ill, or the millions of masqueraded conformists? The story also raises questions regarding how one should deal with depression. It shows the consequences of stigma as a result of a lack of awareness.
With such a gripping climax, the scenes set in a colorful palette, and the plot dealing with controversially vilifying psycho-social issues, “I AM CLOSE BY” is no work of an amateur. It is a must-watch for those keen to have a thought-provoking cinematic experience.
Anushka Dutta is a graduate of English Literature – British and Commonwealth from Calcutta University and a Content Writer by profession. A writer, singer, and artist, they have worked as an ambassador for the Japan Film Festival 2020 in Kolkata, India, organized by the Japan Foundation. They are a professional singer and have done live and playback singing on radio and in films, respectively.