Directed by Bonnie Foster | Reviewed by Rohan Bhattacharya
After ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Sweet Surrender,’ filmmaker Bonnie Foster brings to us another interesting short film, titled, ‘Murder in Monte Nido.’ For starters, the title will instantaneously grab the viewers’ attention! A good murder mystery is something casual viewers care for even more so than drama and romance. Foster’s methodical, but soulful treatment of this murder mystery has taken it beyond the regular clichés. She has been setting standards for short films since 2010, and her recent work goes to show that she is going even stronger! Foster’s deep fascination with themes of self-discovery and individual freedom are predominantly visible in the conceptual and visual treatment of her films; her 2021 short is no different.
‘Butterfly’ and ‘Sweet Surrender’ are about characters who search for their true selves, while the veil of self-doubt and confusion blinds them from seeing themselves for what they really are. In ‘Murder in Monte Nido’ however, the character seems to have matured and is aware of where her true purpose lies. The theme of transformation in Foster’s characters is quite reminiscent of the budding of a flower, or the growth of a butterfly from a larva. The character of Catherine played by the very talented Lotus Bech, is aware of her dark desires and isn’t afraid of projecting her true self onto others. When looking back to Bonnies characters, the viewers cannot help but feel as if the same person has grown up through the years, while donning many mantles, and living different lives.
With the establishing shot, we enter Catherine’s mind through visuals and her own vocal narration. Foster’s mastery of mise en scene is visible through her beautiful set design, and her attention to detail. From the pair of scissors kept in front of the photographs of the couple, to the photographs themselves speak a lot about the director’s mastery over the use of props, and how to utilize them as plot devices in the making of a motion picture. There is no doubt that the house is filled with pictures of both Catherine and her husband; however, what is most fascinating is that none of those pictures are of them posing together. With that, Chekov’s Gun was beautifully put into action. The parallels drawn between the establishing sequence, and the ending sequence is another aspect of the script that viewers and critics of cinema will find extremely fascinating.
Catherine’s narration, and visuals of the house in high-key lighting create an eerie contrast when put together with the gradually intensifying background score, heightening the sense of mystery as we slowly enter Catherine’s room, and find her pleasuring herself. The very next shot of when we cut to John (Catherine’s husband) seems to clarify all our doubts regarding the intimacy in their relationship. The cinematographer’s use of mirrors to create visual depth is commendable; the use of slow but steady pans and tilts matches the theme of contrasts that the director might have chosen to go for when scripting her film. By all means, the cinematographer could have gone hand-held for more intense scenes, but the selected treatment goes well with the flow of the film.
Despite everything that is good about the film, one can’t help but notice shots where the cinematographer could have gone for lenses with shorter focal-lengths, to accommodate props in a sequence, for example: the cup in the kitchen scene, and the newspaper in the mid-shot of both Catherine and John in the dining room. At times, it is felt as if some elements in the shot have forcibly been cut off from the field of view because of the wide aspect ratio.
Nevertheless, Foster’s short film is nothing less than an absolute visual treat! Her way of hinting plot threads through a mere show of emotions, dialogues and props is spectacular. We can only wonder what she would bring to our plates next. Bonnie Foster’s ‘Murder at Monte Nido’ is a mystery that will stick with you, and haunt you in the most pleasurable ways.
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.