Short Film Wednesday - Wasp
When life gets in the way, yet you still want to continue your film education, here is a short film that you can slip in during a spare moment of the day.
Andrea Arnold’s work is a lot to take in. Her work is distinguished by its focus on people that not only do not regularly feature in movies, but many people would actively avoid out of fear, prejudice or both. On the surface, she is similar to Sean Baker who similarly focuses on the disenfranchised. Unlike Sean Baker, Arnold is more in the cinema verite camp. Baker makes films with strong narratives and with a great deal of more conventional craft. There are stunning images in both Tangerine and The Florida Project, and great composition and editing. Arnold’s work does not require any less craft, but it’s harder to detect, deliberately so. She favors a handheld camera and liberal use of contemplative close-ups.
Not that her films are ugly or even all that depressing. Wasp opens with Zoe (Natalie Press) dragging her children behind her and violently confronting another woman who claims that Zoe’s daughter hurt her own daughter. It borders on farcical, as the two women literally roll around the ground and fight and clearly at least one of them is not wearing underwear. It’s easy to think that Arnold might be exploiting these people (since she prefers to use real people, non-actors).
However, the film affords Zoe some moments of sympathy. Clearly her life is consumed by taking care of her four children. So when she has the opportunity to go on a date, she understandably jumps at the chance, though she doesn’t go through the protocol of finding someone to look after her children, leaving them to fend for their own. Arnold challenges us to judge her. Zoe clearly needs some time to herself, but she is also grossly abandoning her responsibility as a mother and caretaker. Of course, all of this takes place with great poverty as the backdrop.
While Arnold’s work may be difficult to watch and one could perhaps make a good argument for its exploitative nature, what would the alternative be? To romanticize poverty? To reduce characters to stereotypes? At least in Arnold’s films, there is a willingness to immerse herself in realistic situations and environments, and all the characters are complex, flawed and unpredictable. In any case, Wasp is a great introduction to her work because all of her techniques and humanity are on full display, so you can make your own judgment as to whether you would like to explore her work or not.