It would be nearly impossible to escape the timeliness and relevance of writer/director David Bartlett's impossibly beautiful and thought-provoking short film Mousie, a film having its Midwest premiere this coming week during the virtual but vibrant Indy Film Fest going on August 13-23rd from Indianapolis.
Set in 1936 Berlin, Mousie centers around seven-year-old Helene (Sasha Watson-Lobo), a Roma girl hiding from the Nazis in a dying Weimar Kabarett under the watchful eyes of her protector, Katharina (CJ Johnson), a performer whose greatest performance may very well be protecting from herself and from a nation increasingly at odds with her solely on the basis of the color of her skin.
Mousie is immersed in the color and tone of an era that will never be forgotten, its aura creating anxiety from the film's opening moments that become intensified the moment we spy the arrival of Otto (Jack Bennett), a bit of a bumbling Nazi but a Nazi nonetheless. He takes a shine to a dismissive Katharina, a dismissal that becomes more relevant as Bartlett's story unfolds.
Mousie is somehow simultaneously hopeful and haunting, Helene's innocent presence casting light upon every shadow even as we can't help but realize that Helene is but one of many whose very real lives experienced similarly harrowing encounters often times without the glimmer of hope that is ever present in Mousie.
Bartlett's ensemble cast is exceptional here, largely filled with experienced West End vets including the mesmerizing Watson-Lobo, an eight-year-old immensely talented wonder who won the national finals of the All England Dance Competition 2017 and went on to represent England (at the age of seven) in the Dance World Cup 2018 in Spain. Indeed, her final scene here, left undescribed, is absolutely masterful.
CJ Johnson is splendid as Katharina, a guarded and fiercely protective woman whose repulsion can be felt the more Mousie's story reveals itself, while Jack Bennett feels instantly, and uncomfortably familiar with his not so unique brand of insecurity-laden misogyny and awkward brutishness. Robert Gill, as Theo, has only one scene but it's a rather brilliant one.
Paul Kirsop's lensing is beyond extraordinary, jarring yet intimate and letting us feel the darkness while never quite dismissing the light. Mousie is a film I could watch again and again for the lensing alone.
The entire production team deserves kudos including Mary-Jane Reyner for sublime costuming work, Duncan Moir's precise yet patient editing, Mark Paine's atmospheric production design, and Jack Arnold's unforgettable original music along with the remainder of the team.
Undeniably pointed in its message, Mousie is a beautiful and memorable short film that calls us to scrutinize the world in which we live while just as fervently reminding us to celebrate those who care, those who fight for change, and the creative spirits who continue to foster hope in a world that can so easily feel exhausting and hopeless.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic