Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"A poignant remembrance for those who were lost, this film also highlights the way in which individual deaths impacted wider communities."

Two years before he enjoyed widespread critical success with feature film 1985, director Yen Tan made this short film about the same lead character, Adrian (here played by Robert Sella), which can be seen partly as a prequel and partly as a musing on the same theme. Though it's now destined to attract interest primarily because of its successor, it's a strong piece of work deserving of attention in its own right.

One of the most difficult things about living with an illness that affects the immune system is dealing with all the opportunistic infections that go along with it, and other people's reactions to them. This was a hundred times harder in 1985, in New York, given the stigma that surrounded AIDS and the fear felt by people who didn't understand how HIV transmission worked. A simple trip to buy dog food results in Adrian getting stared at by strangers. The cashier looks resentful, frightened. Out of shot, we hear the clink of money changing hands; those who remember that era will recall how people hesitated to touch it, afraid of contamination. For the first time we see Adrian's face, Kaposi's sarcoma making dark pits in his skin.

The story is a simple one, about what happens when Adrian seeks out a beauty therapist to help him conceal his symptoms. He's going back to the place he came from and he doesn't want his mother's first sight of him to be like that. The therapist, Tammy (Lindsay Pulsipher), agrees to do the job, and in that simple gesture of support there is a lifeline.

A poignant remembrance for those who were lost, this film also highlights the way in which individual deaths impacted wider communities, and serves as a tribute to those who stepped up to offer their support at a time when society at large shunned the infected. It packs a lot into just eight minutes, a feat that's possible thanks to a perfectly judged performance from Sella and Tan's slow, restrained approach to visual storytelling, through which incident becomes less important than theme. The anticipation of Adrian's meeting with his mother mirrors the inevitable anticipation of death. In a room lit with subtle shades of green and gold, Adrian's tired features are out of place like a brittle Autumn leaf on a Spring day, but with a little help, he can put on a bold face.

Reviewed on: 26 Jan 2019
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1985 packshot
A dying man seeks out a beauty consultant to hide his symptoms.

Director: Yen Tan

Writer: Yen Tan

Starring: Robert Sella, Lindsay Pulsipher, Juli Erickson

Year: 2016

Runtime: 8 minutes

Country: US


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