Short Tales of Life

Photos by Eduardo Martins
Maxim Bessmertny debuts his latest two short films at Taipa Village Art Space Gallery

A banknote that travels from hand to hand until it returns to the original owner. This is the plot of The Great Debt, "a funny project that came about because of an anecdote someone told me about the financial crisis in Greece," director Maxim Bessmertny explains. The three-minute short, along with the eight-minute short Death of a Parrot, had its world premiere at Taipa Village Art Space, Cultural Association Vila da Taipa, in April. The films and exhibition 'Degustation - Films by Maxim Bessmertny will be available for viewing until May 31. 

In The Great Debt,the challenge was "to tell a story visually, with minimal dialogue, but retaining the essence of the anecdote," he adds.

The story, told in three minutes, stars Nikolai Kramarev and Vera Kramarev, Maxim Bessmertny’s maternal grandparents. Bessmertny also wrote and produced the short, in addition to directing.

In the story, the director explains, "the hotel receptionist receives a deposit note from a customer. With that note she pays the butcher for a debt, the butcher pays the driver of a truck, who passes the note to a lawyer, who pays a receptionist, who returns it to the guest because the latter does not want to stay in the hotel. This is the idea, a single note pays the debt of everyone and ends up back in the hands of the original owner, a very funny concept that I adapted to a visual format," Bessmertny explains.

The film’s cinematography is the work of Jordan Lavi Quellman, a schoolmate of Max’s who has collaborated with him on previous productions. Bessmertny adds that The Great Debthas another particularity: in the filming, a Kipnotik wide-angle lens was used; "first used in the 1960s by the Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov," in the propaganda film Soy Cuba.


The sound effect of the parrot's cry

The film Death of a Parrotis dedicated to his grandfather, who is also the protagonist. 

"I decided to do this short after making my first silent film. I wanted to make a second, with music, and using only a sound effect, which is the squawk of a parrot. The idea was to build a tense narrative over a short time span with the squawk of the parrot," the director explains, adding that the story was based on the novel Baudolino, by Umberto Eco, "where a murderer is hired because of an opium addiction." 

In this film "a greedy grape addict", represented by local resident Kelsey Wilhelm, is barred from entering the garden of delights, and can only return if he does a favour for the administrator of the place, personified by his 71-year-old grandfather Nikolai. The soundtrack, also by Kelsey Wilhelm, mixes samples of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 3.

“Making short films is like dividing a feature film into six,” says the director. “It takes the same effort; you organize, you produce, you have the pre-production, post-production, marketing. If you're lucky it's your lottery ticket. There are people who make short films into feature films, so it can turn out to be a vehicle for making a feature".

However, the director is still looking for the perfect script to turn into to a feature film.

"People say it's easier now to make features, because it's all digital, but then why are more people not doing it? Because it's not that easy."

For Bessmertny, it is not enough to have funding to make a feature. The most important thing "is to have the perfect script and, so far, I have not yet been able to have a perfect 'filmable' script that makes me very happy. 

“It's taken me all this time to find something worth going to the end of the world for, but I'm close. It's like having a treasure map, and as long as that map is good enough to take you to that treasure, then you're going to be willing to travel to the other side of the world. And that's what I've been doing, looking for maps."


The films and exhibition 'Degustation - Films by Maxim Bessmertny will be available for viewing until May 31 at the Taipa Village Arts Space.