A grieving family struggles with their own demons as they try to come to terms with the death of a parent/husband. As the family of three begins to prepare for a wake, cranks in their personality start to show, reflecting that there is more to the recent death of the family patriarch.
Undoubtedly, “Manara’s” greatest strength lies within the script work from writer Pascale Seigneurie and director Zayn Alexander. The script successfully subverts a strong moral message under the guise of a short murder/mystery. The film soon becomes layered through dialogue that creates distinct family archetypes with, and constructs the portrait of a broken family in a quick and effective matter, within its subjects. Given the film is short in duration, its ability to establish its characters background and personalities was key to the success of the production, and is thankfully well handled. Unfortunately, outside of the strong narrative tone, there are a few creative choices that really inhibit the script to be fully realized.
The visual and audio presentation is uncomplimentary to the subject matter. Given the focus on family drama, the film does a poor job of capturing face to face interaction. Most frames stay closely focused on whoever is delivering lines, and do not have the actors acting off of each other in a single frame. There are a few exceptions, but these have both actors shown facing towards the camera, with the conflicting member off camera until they say their line. Overall, it just begins to feel slightly unnatural and squanders the chance to further establish tension by getting to see two actors strengths feed off each other at the same time. Another causality in this approach is that the location work seems to be particularly well done, with a rather scenic setting and a nice building, however the film stays too focused on these tight shots and we only get a few glimpses of environment.
The audio, although reminiscent of stock drama music, does fit the beginning of the production well. However, this soon tapers off and the film remains largely engulfed in silence. This choice really kills the tension built up within the first scene, which is arguably the most engaging sequence in the film.
All three actors offer up strong performances, and the weight of emotional grief from losing a loved one becomes an interesting portrait of family life, reflecting different ideals and personalities. However, these performances do become somewhat lost within awkward framing. Overall, it makes the performances bitter sweet and leaving the desire to want to see the actors play off of each other more in shots that showed both actors in conflict at the same time.
“Manara” boasts a strong narrative that explores the complexities of suicide and how it can effect a family, particularly within a culture that is prone to shame the surviving members. However, even with the strong narrative the story feels like it would be better served as a scene within a larger production and less of a stand alone. The film also has its shortfalls in terms of presentation, which somewhat betrays the seriousness of its message.
In spite of these flaws, there is still depth in the social commentary that is coupled with a passionate drive for social understanding. Overall, the end result may be a bit messy but its strengths are still enough to put the short in high regard, and establishes director Zayn Alexander as a strong narrative story teller.