A noticeably disturbed man rides a crowded bus to some unknown destination when one of the stops sees him face to face with an old friend, Zohad. The friend wants to catch up and reminisce over past days. However, Zohad soon starts to notice something off with his friend Ali as he talks about the past and time lost. Through their conversation, he learns that Ali has been dealing with a dark past, that has lead him to an extreme solution.
“Face to face” is a rather deceptive short film, given the bulk of it taking place on a single bus and the opening dialogue feeling as about exciting as any conversation you would hear on public transit. However, the film does contain a rather engrossing twist near the end that puts the subject matter into something much more dark and tragic. With the production feeling geared towards this moment, it succeeds in building the narrative through different technique, some subtle and some obvious.
The production starts with a busy bus, surrounded by noise from inside and outside, giving a semi nauseating experience, especially to those, like myself, that live in sparsely populated areas. This chaotic atmosphere also works well to reflect the troubled mind of Ali, as his gaze shifts around in order to identify all the noise pollution. The noise continues as he meets his friend and begins to discuss his dark past and his current trajectory in life, which is very grim. It is within this moment that the background noise begins to melt away a little bit, removing focus from the traffic outside or the people around. Muting the background noise slightly within this moment really frames the importance of the characters’ words. It is a very subtle move on the director’s part, but it shows a good understanding of using environment and sound to best reflect his subjects’ word, as, within this moment, the muted background noise can also express either character’s own internal narrative to focus heavily on the new words they are about to speak.
Given that the film is essentially a dialogue between two characters who both have an established persona at the beginning, it becomes obvious pretty fast where each of them stands in life, with Zohan living a happy existence, and Ali in obvious distress. It creates an instant tension that the viewer has to try to decipher, ultimately leading to a disturbing reveal, which I will not spoil within the review. Leading up to this moment, both actors give good performances to ensure a strong impact. In particular, Zohan’s desperate plea to his friend is an emotional performance that adds to the weight of the situation.
“Face to Face” suffers slightly from really relying on one moment to sell the production. There does seem to be a hint of social commentary within, but if this is the case, it is really not that clear. Also, the film before and after the big reveal is rather forgettable and somewhat uncomfortable given the amount of noise. The production also asks the viewer to fill in some of the backstory, which is common within the short film format. However, as tragic as Ali’s past is, his solution to deal with it feels a bit extreme and unrealistic. Within this moment, the production gives the impression it is trying to include a degree of social commentary. Unfortunately, if the production aims to add a degree of social commentary, it seems to miss the mark. Admittedly, some of this disconnect and unbelievability comes from my Western sentiments and limited understanding of a certain culture, so perhaps I am the one missing the mark in my critique.
Director Bashar Georgis crafts a nightmarish scenario within a short run time, utilizing the environment around him, and getting some great performances from his actors. Although the narrative overall feels a bit flimsy, I still really appreciated the work to get to the reveal between friends. Overall, although the production feels one note, it does a great job of making that moment memorable.