Directed by Virginia Bach | Review by Helen WheelsA detached feeling sets in as the audience is taken on a meandering trek through the halls of a hospital in the opening scene of Virginia Bach’s 15-minute French short film, “Tell him.” The camera’s forward motion stops in front of Phillipe (Grégory Questel), who looks disconnected as he exists a hospital room. Once he takes his leave, the camera turns its attention to Maxime (Gaspard Pasquet), a nine-year-old boy who heads through the walkway from his classroom to the school parking lot to meet his father. The scene is a slow-motion shot that reinforces the feeling that everything is happening from a distance, a separation. This feeling of disconnect is grief.
Bach uses the motif of pathways and camera motion to describe the discord between a father who can’t express his feelings, unable to tell his son the terrible truth, and a son who knows that something is wrong. Maxime’s unconfirmed knowledge drives a wedge between the two at a time when they need each other more than ever. As the chasm grows wider, the camera takes a position, acting as an entity that watches over Maxime when the young boy sets out on his own to seek the truth.
Virginia Bach wrote “Tell Him” as therapy of sorts, to deal with the impending death of her mother, who passed before the film went into production. In her Director’s statement, Bach says, “Philippe and Maxime, the characters, were created with courage but also fear, based on what I felt during the past few months. Considering what I was enduring, I sometimes felt like Philippe, unable to speak or act, but also sometimes like Maxime, transcended by the life force, stronger than ever.”
Gaspard Pasquet’s portrayal of Maxime is beyond his years. His troubled face tells a story that no words can express. He does, in fact, transcend grief in a way that his father cannot in this situation; however, it appears to be anger smoldering beneath the surface, mixed with a sense of loss, that motivates the boy. He has not been given the opportunity to express his sadness. Maxime lashes out at his father in the only way he knows how, by telling Phillipe that he doesn’t know how to prepare his son’s favorite meal. Grégory Questel, give us an equally compelling performance as Phillipe, who practices avoidance in the most desperate of ways. His grief is palpable. We aren’t angry with him for doing a poor job of helping his son because we see that he can’t even handle his own feelings of loss. Instead, we root for him, hoping he overcomes this bereavement before it’s too late to save their relationship.
Virginia Bach’s short film, “Tell Him,” is a snapshot of a father and son who have lost their way. The death of a parent is heart-wrenching, no matter what the age. To a 9-year-old boy, this experience could affect the way that he deals with relationships for the rest of his life. In that respect, Bach’s story also serves as a reminder that even in our grief, as a parent we are still the adult and we must somehow find the strength within ourselves to be there for our children, lest we lose them as well.
Helen Wheels is an independent filmmaker, freelance writer, and visual artist. She has produced, directed, worked as a set designer and scenic painter, and has been an assistant director on dozens of films. Wheels graduated from Shoreline College with an AAAS in Digital Film Production and is continuing toward her MFA in New Media Communications. Known for her eye to detail and advanced research skills, Wheels is currently researching historical events for her latest script and is in the process of developing her online writing business.