Short Film Review: Saudade

In the past, we’ve said that sometimes it’s alright for a film to just be fun. Well, there’s also a flip side to that. As many of you probably noticed from Cinema Smack’s Top 10 Doomed Romances feature from February, we love some dark and depressing stuff. Therefore, it’s no surprise at how captivating Kemal Yildirim’s short film, Saudade, is. The film’s title comes from Portuguese history and culture and translates to a melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent. With a meaning like that, Saudade is right up our alley.

The film sees a woman named Alice (Holly-Rose Durham) as she tries to recover from a recent breakup. Her mind begins to fracture as painful memories from her past interject themselves into her daily life. Seemingly, everywhere Alice turns, there’s a reminder of her passionate, yet often tumultuous, relationship with Tris (Yildirim). At first glance, their relationship appears to be a happy one but, as the film continues, we see the deterioration of their partnership and, in addition, Alice’s mental state.

For starters, the acting in Saudade is top notch. Admittedly, this film is unlike most out there as there’s very little plot to follow and there’s not much to the dialogue either. The characters do speak but it’s often whispered or overlapping one another. In that regard, you’d think it would be difficult for the characters to make such an impact. That’s certainly not the case here. Newcomer Holly-Rose Durham is shockingly good as she uses her facial expressions and emotion to relay the story of her character. The director, Kemal Yildirim, also does a good job in his limited screen time and also provides an additional sense of mystery to the story. There’s no doubt about it that Saudade is primarily Alice’s story. You definitely sympathize with her throughout her struggles. Though, it does seem that there’s another side to the story with Tris.

The cinematography and camerawork in this film are also wonderful. Every shot is crisp and crammed full of detail. Whether you’re seeing shots of a room, a line of trees, or even a closeup of the characters, every frame contains so much to look at. The colors pop off the screen despite the film’s usually chilly hue. In a way, it’s often reminiscent of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 21 Grams in style and substance. Even though the scenes are so detailed, there’s something visually and emotionally hopeless. Discovering ways to make something so engaging feel so bleak is a true testament to the great direction and storytelling by Yildirim.

When discussing the storytelling and action onscreen, it should be known that Saudade is an uncomfortable watch. There is a bit of nudity and some semi-graphic sexual activity in the film. It’s nothing over-the-top but it’s present. In addition, there are some distressing scenes in which Alice and Tris get into heated arguments and even engage in some minor violence towards one another. The scenes are portrayed in a very realistic manner and, while not pretty, you could definitely see some of these things happen in a real-life relationship. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing though. It simply adds to the story that the film is trying to tell and really humanizes its characters. Not everything in life is happy and this film understands that.

If there’s one negative to the film, it’s that it feels like a piece of the story is missing. As previously mentioned, Tris’s side is pretty much completely omitted. On one hand, it works because Saudade is Alice’s story. You can speculate as to why Tris leaves Alice but you don’t really know for sure. There’s definitely some craziness to their relationship and that may simply be the only reason needed for Tris. Yet, it’s still hard not to question his motives. That being said, it works well just the way it is and does allow viewers to interpret the chain of events in their own way as well.

Our Score

As has mostly been the case on this site, Saudade is another superb short film. We truly do live in an extraordinary time for filmmaking as independent filmakers can regularly produce high quality, breathtaking work. Nowadays, there’s much more access to quality equipment and the digital medium is a godsend compared to the pricier film alternative. Kemal Yildirim’s Saudade is a beautiful film aesthetically and in terms of its storytelling. Although it’s not what you’d consider a fun watch, it contains many powerful scenes and a memorable outcome. Definitely don’t miss out on this one.

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