I found Mahmut Akay’s short A View From the Bench the other day while flipping through bigstar.tv. After a few viewings, I realized that as short films go, it actually sets up tension remarkably well: an early shot establishes a question (what is she looking at?) that is resolved later.
In any event, it’s a psychological exploration, and it was designed to be personal; Akay grew up in Chestnuts Park, London, where the film is set. “Treading on preten- tiousness here, but it almost feels like an entity that has been there since my childhood, ‘someone’ that has been there to see you grow old(er),” he wrote me in an e-mail. He chose the mother among other actresses because she seemed to be the most personally invested in the role; she was a mother herself.
Akay made the film in May 2009 while he was a student at a campus of the University of Creative Arts in the UK. Like most student films, Akay had various technical problems to grapple with. But in one case, he turned it around: “That entire scene of searching for the son was the toughest part. It was so difficult to keep complete focus that we decide to utilise on the blurry images aesthetically to signify a sense of ‘loss’.”
The short is somber, but Akay has directed a couple of lighthearted commercials, including this great Doritos commercial.
In your view, does the film have a definite meaning? The description makes it sound as though the son is alive and well somewhere else, and the mother is just worried about him…but watching the short, I felt as though she might have lost her son at a playground sometime in the past and never saw him again, or that he had died in some other circumstance.
That's an interesting interpretation of the story you have there. It fascinates me to hear different takes on the story; my mum felt the mother arrived to a new country as a foreigner, away from her son, trying to start a new life, but unable to escape memories of her son so she tries to confront the problem in the park, where she's emotionally vulnerable with all the mothers and children omnipresent.
The way I feel about the story is that the son is alive and well and somewhere else -- like you've said, and the mother hasn't seen him in a period of time so she visits a park they used to go to together (the picture is on the same bench). She does this to feel as close as possible to him, but seeing another mother lose her son reminds her of when she lost her son in that same park thus she identifies and even imagines herself as that mother.
But to answer your question, does the film have a definite meaning? No, I don't believe so. The narrative was intentionally ambiguous and sparse, so the audience could participate and form their own conclusions. I feel that way, the audience is invited to form their own story, almost like a painting. Where as when the narrative is solid and blunt, you have less room to play around and make the story your own.
What inspired the subject matter?
I had this question asked the most actually. Obviously a son's emotions differ from a mother’s due to perspective and other obvious factors but being an only son, spending time with your mother majority of the time, you really digest and absorb how she feels and fathom the complex emotions to quite a high degree.
The exact inspiration came from something my mother told me when I was really young, 8 - 12. I had returned from a 6 month stay abroad with my father, the longest I've been away from my mother, and when I returned, she was driving me past McDonald’s and told me how much she missed me every time she went past there. And it is something she's told me on a few other occasions subsequent to that time too, and it sticks with you.
Obviously I didn't want to advertise a massive million dollar corporation -- so I chose the park instead. The notion of embedding a place with memories and remembering someone you love, I felt carries emotional resonance - but when it's a mother and only son -- that amplified it a whole lot more for me. It's an entirely different dynamic, to, let’s say, a lover reminiscing over their other-half from memories of a location.
I have always felt a mother’s worst fear is losing their child, so that played a major part in inspiration. But if I were to single out one inspiration, then it would be her nostalgia from going past McDonald’s.
Why so many close-ups at the beginning? Some of them are not of the woman or the child but of the area, so that was curious to me.
Within her mental space of memories, she remembers the little things, like the railings and monkey bars. I tried to convey her interior self as rather kinesthetic. So all of those little things that she remembers, cause her to feel the nostalgia that she does, so I tried to emphasise on the little details too. Not sure if I've articulated that lucidly enough; an example would be, when you visit a childhood place, all the little things you took for granted are now memory inducing objects, items of the past.