Being from Scotland, we know all about freckles. The curse of red heads and the pale skinned alike, the bizarre stigma attached to this particular type of skin can often be brutal, a mixture of ridicule over something beyond your control or, amongst some spheres of the modelling industry, a ‘plus’, a ‘thing’, a lifestyle accessory.
It can also limit how much time you spend in the sun, lest you end up looking like a pebble dashed beach, or in my case, a particularly well boiled lobster.
In Denise Papas Meechan’s short film, the freckles in question belong to Lizzie, a young, lonely woman, living with a serious lack of self esteem, her face and body having been given the lion’s share of freckles at birth.
Virginal and vulnerable, she equates her sad and lonely existence to her skin tone, a dangerous place to carry guilt and, as the film progresses, we are invited into a maelstrom of depression and even threat of self destruction.
There is, of course, an irony to the whole film. Lizzie is a beautiful girl, but doesn’t know it, a product of school bullying and far too much rejection in her life. The character, as played by Jenn Halweil, feels as though she is being judged at every turn, choosing to avoid much in the way of intimacy, or even conversation, for that matter.
Halweil is simply brilliant here, carrying the weight of her self loathing on her small shoulders like a backpack full of rocks. There is something captivating in her face, striking eyes that seek empathy (and its hard not to feel as such) yet also display a deep down rage, a distant echo of one too many taunts, that, like a geyser, is about to erupt. Its a bold, emotionally naked performance which, smartly, never overplays, particularly in some extremely powerful inner monologue narration, which starts off quirky, before seamlessly shifting into a heart-breaking tragedy.
Halweil is a commanding actor onscreen, allowing the reality of her character’s situation to ring true and making her final moments all the more of a jolt to your system.
The film has a great deal to say, both metaphorically and literally, about our image conscience society, a motif illustrated in the recurring images of passers by who sneer or turn their heads from Lizzie, who spends most of her time outside under a hoodie.
The direction is subtle here, Meechan smartly staying focused on Halweil ‘s face, which is all the narrative drive you need in a story such as this. The palette is also suitably neutral, all washed out whites and browns, although what flashes of colour there are reinforce Lizzie’s alienation from people (a splash of animation illustrates a co-worker’s (played with grotesque glee by Jane Dashow) sex life, while sudden flashes of red signify something far more significant, both stylistic and symbolic).
The same could be said of Meechan’s screenplay, which never overplays its hand.
Starting off as a dark (very dark) comedy, it unfolds in under 15 minutes, into a brutal character study, before leaving us with a denouement that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Gaspar Noe film.
A haunting, fascinating piece that defies categorization, there is a remarkable amount of complexity, not to mention maturity, to the film making on display here, which begs the question: just what could Meechan accomplish with a bigger budget and longer running time?
You could make the argument that Lizzie’s wallowing in self pity is indulgent, or that she just needs to find that ‘one special person’, but this would be to do the film a dis-service. The problem runs far deeper, as it always does, leaving no easy answers.
Far from simple beauty aesthetics, she sees her freckles as a curse, as a place “where my demons hide”.
This is not your average woman
And this is not your average film.