Directed by Gabriel Bissonnette | Reviewed by Rohan Bhattacharya
It is truly magical how fantastical stories and premises are oftentimes the most relatable ones. Even though genres such as fantasy are set in worlds that are profoundly distinct from the world we live in, the stories set in these extraordinary places tend to become the highlight of our intrigue. Commonly, when one thinks of fantasy films, their mind is reminded of Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy, or ‘Harry Potter’; these are feature length films with an absurdly huge budget. It is difficult to imagine the genre of fantasy showcased appropriately in a low-budget short film. However, a genre full of surprises is rarely graced by filmmakers who are ready to embrace it, and bring a new world into our reality. With the film, ‘Ancestral Land,’ filmmaker Gabriel Bissonnette has risen above the general expectations, and has set a standard for filmmakers who have always wanted to explore the genre.
‘Ancestral Land’ is set in a medieval fantasy world where humans coexist with other magical creatures like the elves. We are introduced to the protagonist, a man who finds himself exploring a magical forest. He is attracted to an ancient tree, and is then greeted by an Elf: the spirit of the forest. The characters have been portrayed in a way that symbolizes that they share a supernatural kinship. Humans are known to be swayed by the promise of power and wealth; our protagonist falters at the sight of a weapon that could grant him riches, and is then overwhelmed by a lust for greatness. Bissonnette ends his film with a powerful message, and the assurance that mankind hasn’t fallen too deep in the dark pit of savagery yet. There is humility still within us, and a strong will could easily drive out the evil that might try to sway us.
The quality of storytelling, and the seamlessness in the way that the filmmaker has resolved the conflict in the plot is extremely commendable. With brilliant acting by the talents, and the cinematographer’s visual treatment of the film, Bissonnette has created a voiceless harmony, unadulterated by dialogues. The choice of location and the costume design create a sense of otherworldliness. This sense was heightened even further by the cinematographer’s treatment of shots, and the colour story that magically flows with the edit, and blends the shots together. Even the simplest of shots resonate deeply within the viewers psyche, making them feel as if they are a part of the protagonist’s predicament.
The visual experience is further enhanced by the sound design and the background score. The visuals were carried splendidly by the sounds used in the film; the music created a sense of mystique and strengthened the fantastical quality that the visuals were trying to portray. The robust synthesis of visuals and sounds helped create a truly immersive setting for the viewers; an experience that will be felt the best when enjoying the film in cinema hall, presented on a big screen. Moreover, the shift in the colours from a warmer orange tone to the teal was amplified with variations in the musical motif. From the mellow major scale melody, the music transitions to the darker and more sombre variation of it, accompanied by visuals that showcase the protagonist’s shift from an agreeable person, to a figure shrouded in a veil of darkness, and the desire to commit evil simply to satiate his greed.
‘Ancestral Land’ by Gabriel Bissonnette is inspirational in every aspect. The concept and the themes showcased in the film, and the sheer fact that it brings about a rarely used genre in the world of short films and gives it its own unique twist is awe inspiring. The film brings with it a rare opportunity: the chance to witness something nearly flawless in its execution, and experience a story that is based in a different world, but tends to feel so at home.
Rohan Bhattacharya is a video editor, filmmaker and writer. His film Komorebi won the second prize in ‘South Asia Japanese Language Short Film Competition,’ organized by The Japan Foundation, New Delhi and his latest film “Tsubaki” has been screened at the Tokyo Short Film Festival in Japan. His production house Sunkaku Productions makes movies in Japanese language to create a bridge of culture between India and Japan.