Most of us never get the chance to see some of the most compelling movies around, simply because they fall into that oft-overlooked category of "short films." You can tell a lot of story in 20 or 40 minutes, but unless you pad it out to an hour and a half or two, nobody's going to show your movie. Or rent it at the video store. Or even hear about it.
Often, that's a pity. In the case of Most, it's a terrible loss. People who have seen this film count it among the best and most powerful movies they have ever seen: some say it's been life-changing. An audience favorite when it debuted at the prestigious Sundance Festival, it went on to win top honors at the Heartland Film Festival, Maui, Palm Springs and other international competitions before receiving an Oscar nomination as Best Live Action Short Film in 2003.
"Most" is Czech for "The Bridge," and this story revolves around a man who operates a railway drawbridge somewhere in Eastern Europe. One of the glories of this small masterpiece is the acting: what a privilege to see such astonishingly accomplished actors, their faces completely unrecognizable to a North American audience. None of the distractions of celebrity to compete with the reality of the world that opens up onscreen.
And what a tangible, engrossing, closely observed world it is. The seed of this screenplay may be something of a Christian "urban legend," familiar from sermons, tracts and fireside talks at summer camp, but the film's exquisite attention to sensual detail and deeper character development makes it so much more. The events at the core of this story may have happened once—or may not have. But over the years its telling and retelling have stripped away the particularities and reduced it to its "message." But here the filmmakers fill out the narrative with rich detail, not only of life in a European city viewed through the eyes of a small boy, but also by extending the stories of the central characters beyond the bounds of the didactic, boiled-down allegory. Elements of this story resonate with larger stories at the heart of the Christian faith, but the filmmakers have introduced so much human detail back into the tale that it confounds the sort of one-to-one symbolic interpretation the "parable version" invites.
To reveal much at all of a story this concise and beautifully constructed would be to rob the viewer of some of the film's greatest power. It moves from an evocative, almost dreamlike opening to a stunning climax with tremendous artistry, then finds a perfectly conceived denouement that not only shifts the story away from a flatly allegorical interpretation but provides even greater emotional resonance for the events that have gone before.
The eastern European tone and setting combined with the moral/relational conundrum at the heart of the story are reminiscent of Kieslowski, particularly the short films in his acclaimed Decalogue project, though there's an unabashed soulfulness here (however understated) that contrasts with the muted emotions of the Polish director's work, and probably renders Most just that much more accessible to a North American audience. It's remarkable to learn that the film originates with a pair of young Los Angeles filmmakers, Bobby Garabedian and William Zabka (though those last names may help explain something of the film's European flavor). It's more remarkable—at least for people more cynical about "Christian filmmaking"—that the film's creators are both committed Christians. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Oh yes.
The film premiered with a score mostly borrowed from the soundtrack of Amelie (!), but the DVD release features an all new score by John Debney, whose quiet music for this film is as evocative as his heart-pounding Passion of The Christ score was thunderous and overwhelming.
Garabedian and Zabka have taken a well-worn story that's probably not true but is definitely True, and elaborated that mythic kernel into a multi-layered and evocative story that visits tragedy and suggests transcendence without ever descending to didacticism. For my money, an absolute exemplar of what a short film can be, and of what Christians can accomplish with film: real art, real life, real hope.
Note: This film is available at the movie's official website.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Are you familiar with the story about the father and son which inspired this film? How does the film version compare to the story as you heard it? Does familiarity with the original story make the film more or less effective? Does the presence of an extra level of meaning beyond the movie's very human story make it more or less effective for you?
- The introduces us to a myriad of lives in brief glimpses, often through the eyes of a child. What do we know about the lives of the various secondary characters? How does this make the film more effective?
- From the start, we sense the film may culminate in tragedy. While the film is not simply an allegory, what might it suggest about the role of the Father in salvation history?
- How hopeful is the ending of this film? Has God brought meaning out of pain in your own life?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The film has no sexual content, language issues or explicit violence, but it does have an extremely intense climax which will make it inappropriate for more sensitive children.
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