“Christman Bonus” is a film that wants to tug at your heartstrings in under 14 minutes, giving us not enough time to relate to its characters. It is a bold choice, but the length is fitting to the theme and scope of the story, which tackles modern consumerism amidst crumbling human values.
It follows Joe, a man working a fancy job, coveting the new iPhone. It is a relatable emotion all right and dealt without much fuss. But he’s also ignoring his mother’s wishes to come back home. We see the Philippines as a country in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda, and after meeting one of its good-natured victims, our hero makes a decision which probably even he didn’t expect.
There is a lot to like in the short. Each small scene is written perceptively and purposefully into the screenplay-be it Joe reading about the typhoon, only to be distracted by the iPhone ad, and while viewing the ad, he quickly brushes off the link about the typhoon; or when he is protective of his Christmas bonus even while in the taxi, trying to hide it from the taxi driver. Random shots of a simpler phone towards the end and the name card of a taxi driver are not quite random after all, serving as important links to the story and making for efficient writing. The plot and theme of the movie , too, is good-natured and likable, making it pleasant viewing.
However, there are loopholes that the film leaves us with. How come a righteous and kind man is quickly willing to accept charity from a stranger without much protest? The protagonist’s change of heart is logical but abrupt and hence the big moment is not fully earned.
As I’ve mentioned before, what is most difficult for short, small-budget films to get right is the soundscape, and the same holds true for this film. Along with that, the shaky hand-held camera shots during walking are intentional but off-putting.
At one point, I thought I had come across a truly perceptive short film. I cannot say I’m completely right, because the short is somewhat bogged down by its shortcomings, but is nonetheless an interesting watch if you look at the little details.