John Hurt Strikes the Heart in Sailcolth

Posted on Friday, 11th November 2011 @ 03:11 AM by Text Size A | A | A

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John Hurt is always memorable in all his roles, from intestine exploding scenes in Alien,  grotesque deformity in The Elephant Man, to explicit poignancy as Quintan Crisp, but never in such short screen time has he struck at the heart in the way as was achieved in Sailcloth.    In the Elephant Man, John Merrick forces the viewer into surrendering emotionally through his evident suffering from being tortured from his monstrous physicality.  Likewise the character of Crisp dictates the audience to sympathise with him because of his emotional torture that he has endured in his life.  However, what is prevalent in Sailcloth is that the the audience is taken on an extremely poignant journey of emotions, but not through the conventional devices of more hyperbolized characterisations but merely from the portrayal of a simple man with a simple soul.  Thus what has been achieved is a very identifiable human experience.

Most of us have experienced loss, whether it is the loss of a parent or a partner, and most of us have been forced to place a loved one into a nursing home.  Because these sentiments are relevant to the audience then without hesitation we are connecting to the film.  This feeling is reinforced by the fact that the director, Elfar  Adalsteins’ own grandfather was the spark of inspiration for this short movie.

Photo credit: Karina Lidia Photography

Within seconds of the movie commencing the familiar tick tock of the clock resonates a sense of  slow death and decay, and how redundant human life has become, not only the patients but for the almost comatose robotic actions of the nursing staff.

Humour is a conventional device  used to contrast against tragedy, but in this film the humour transports tragedy to celebration and passion.  We all chuckled at  the old man smoking his cigar on the toilet to set off the water sprinklers, but this plot device serves a much greater purpose.  Its pivotal to his escape from these geriatric prisons, and for him to commence his Promethean Quest.   Once free of the aged confines of the nursing home and custodian of a boat, the old man is almost rejuvenated as he interacts with children from his solitary vessel.  This is now a journey back in time to a place where his true love inhabited.  Clutching to his heart a picture with a youthful imagine of his wife, he commences a dance of reunification.   The film now shifts to a spiritual level as we only see this reunion as shadowery imagery juxtapositioned upon the boat`s sails like two free spirits  dancing.   This majestic scene spears the heart but not with pain but with the sense of rekindled love.   The explosive suicide scene has now become a celebration of this spiritual reunification and transcendence.

The striking score from Richard Cottle  prevents the final scene from descending into depression, but elevates it to a romantic level and the glorification of taking your own fate into your own hands, refusing to wait for the inevitable.



For a film that has no words, it surely says a lot.  Dialogue has been replaced with expressive acting and sounds, a testimony to the director, the actors and the composer.  A must see short film that has genuinely struck at the heart.

Darren Cheers

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