Review: Sing

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Short

A delightful piece of work…where's the rest of it?

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Normally I’m with the crowd of people shouting for filmmakers to shorten their creations. Not that I don’t like a nice long film (I willingly sat through Abel Gance’s nearly six hour epic Napoleon and came out the other end proclaiming that it was one of the best films ever made), but most of the time filmmakers seem to think that length constitutes depth. As a result the industry is swamped with two and a half hour movies that could all do with a judicious cutting. Very rarely is it that I find myself preaching the exact opposite message that a film just isn’t long enough. Yet this is very much with Kristof Deak’s enjoyable but sadly rather lacklustre short Sing.

Based on a true story of a primary school in Hungary, the film follows Zsofi, a young girl desperate for a spot on the school’s prestigious choir who is ultimately bullied into mouthing the words to songs by the choir’s domineering director. A novel and rather intriguing concept if I do say so myself, and one that elicits more than a few charms along the way. Only problem is that the emphasis really is on the word ‘few’. The running time is cramped with all the ideas, emotions and characters that the film wants to throw at us that some have to be sacrificed in order to move things on. Zsofi’s heartache at not being allowed into the choir is sorely underdeveloped and the only real development that the choir’s director seems to get is ‘she doesn’t want children who can’t sing to sing in her choir’. I can imagine a slightly longer film that explored the nuances of these characters really sticking with me. Had they lingered a little more on such themes, I can imagine that film really would have been quite affecting. I wanted to enjoy it more, I really did, but in the end I just couldn’t get behind so many characters in the span of just under 25 minutes.

There are the seeds of a much greater film in here somewhere. When it’s allowed to breathe, the results can be quite touching and even beautiful. A scene wherein Zsofi, and her new friend Liza dance to a piece of music they both enjoy, or scenes of children playing in the school’s yard set to the clapping and chanting of the choir are composed wonderfully and remind me of days gone by when I wasn’t an embittered student picking apart what is in all honesty a very charming piece of work. The only problem is there’s no time to get emotionally-invested. At the point where I’d started to really appreciate the quality of the performances and camerawork, the film was rushing to what was a rather forced and obvious climax.

I don’t want to knock Deak’s skills, though (if anything the material that’s here is evidence that this may very well be a name to look out for in the future of international cinema) and it’s not like a short film can’t deliver a satisfying experience either. I’ve often praised them for their ability to compress complex ideas into shorter running times and still deliver striking emotional payoffs, but the premise this film offers us just isn’t compressed. It feels as it’s been cobbled together from scenes which look like they’ve been taken from a much longer film. And ultimately all I can say therefore is this: “Show me that longer film, please, because it looks really good!”

Sing, directed by Kristof Deak, was selected to feature at SEEFest Los Angeles.

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Filmmaker, philosopher, critic (on occasion). Also writes for MUBI Notebook. It's not the side-effects of the cocaine. I'm thinking that it must be love.

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