My editor and webmaster, sm, tells me that I should start out with some introduction about what we are doing here. Apparently, saying “I fell asleep and my cheek hit the keyboard and I woke up to a blog post!” is not good enough. In the non-online world, I study the narratives we tell, why we tell them, and how they define our society - and I mostly focus how those narratives are conveyed in film. Since I was spending a lot of time doing this, it seemed like it was time to find an outlet for it. And here we are.
When thinking about what to write for a first post (the first is always the hardest, right?), I went through several ideas, finally settling on a short film - something everyone could see, so we could all jump off together. And so I went looking for an appropriate short film that had something to do with food, since it seemed appropriate as it would stay true one of to the current themes of this site. And what I found was that there are a ton of short films that revolve around food. I mean, a lot. Many more than I expected, especially since I wasn’t actually searching for food. But it seemed appropriate, so I went with the food theme.
So, without further ado, here’s our first short film, Table 7, written and directed by Marko Slavnic. Enjoy!
Did you all enjoy that? I hope so! Now let’s talk about it. (There are going to be spoilers. This is your warning.)
Table 7 is what is known as a short short film, which is generally defined as a film under 5 minutes long.1 It’s a personal preference, of course, but for me, when looking for a short film, I like to look for the short shorts, because the rigidly short time often makes the filmmaker more creative when telling the story.
On the surface, Table 7 is a sweet film with a twist - an arguing couple’s relationship is saved by targeted fortune cookies formulated for them by an eavesdropper. It’s fun and lighthearted. I enjoyed it.
And yet, I found myself with a niggling doubt. The conceit - of a Chinese restaurant creating special fortune cookies for their customers - is great. How many of us have gotten fortune cookies that seem oddly on target? The film holds tight to it’s core, every shot is about furthering the story from beginning to end, and is done very neatly. But that elegant storytelling actually leads to my doubts.
We never hear why the couple is arguing. We are told that it’s something silly, but we aren’t shown that - and indeed, the intensity of their arguing suggests it might be something bigger. Without knowing why they are arguing, it’s hard to tell if the the fortune cookies are really doing them a favor, or if it just means prolonging a breakup that should have already occurred. That is, maybe this ending isn’t as happy as it seems.
Slavnic was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and came to the United States just before the Bosnian war. Many of his films directly address that conflict and the situation of growing up far from his homeland. While Table 7 doesn’t directly discuss displacement, there is an element of that to the story.
We are clearly looking at an upscale Chinese restaurant somewhere in the United States. The central characters, the fighting couple, are caucasian. And the Chinese workers, as indicated by their writing and speaking in Chinese, are all dedicating their lives to fixing the problems of their non-Chinese clientele. They remain invisible guardian angels, as if this is their sole purpose in life.
It’s certainly not a bad calling - getting to meddle anonymously in someone else’s life to make it better seems like an awesome job (and an idea I’ve toyed with in the past). But this film makes the Chinese workers the supporting characters to the white customer’s happiness, an othering that tends to happen a lot in films.2 One wonders if this is just filmmaking shorthand by Slavnic, or if it is a representation of how he sees the role of immigrants in American society.
Slavnic is definitely someone to keep an eye on - I wouldn’t be surprised if he was directing big feature films in the next several years. Table 7 has been an official selection at numerous film festivals, and it, along with his other films, are getting a good amount of favorable attention. You can check out his work at markoslavnic.com.
So, what did you think? Did anything in the film jump out at you?
1 As opposed to a short film. While definitions of short film differ, I usually go with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who defines a short film as “an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits.”
2 Although, if the couple isn’t really as happy at the end as it seems, then maybe one could argue that this is a subversive act by the fortune cookie writers.
"Marko Slavnic." Marko Slavnic. Accessed November 5, 2012. http://markoslavnic.com/.