4242, Directed by Sara Eustáquio
In 4242, Cristi leaves her native country to start a new life. We don’t know where she’s from or why she has to leave. But in this new land, her life is very different. At first she’s happy about her move, but then like a ton of bricks, the depression hits. In this new country where her own language has become meaningless to everyone she meets, she feels completely alone. Being uprooted feels liberating at first, but then the reality sinks in. She’s unsure of herself in a foreign country. She misses her family.
The film opens with Cristi calling for a ride from the airport and then dives right into her emotional rollercoaster. We see images of her new home — somewhere in Europe, shot on location in Portugal but with the anonymous effect of seeming to be any city — followed by scenes of Cristi, her emotions on full display. She doesn’t do anything particularly related to her story, which she recounts as the movie’s narrator. Instead, her actions are symbolic of her inner emotional state. When she’s happy, she smiles brightly at the camera, when she’s sad, she looks into the lens sullenly — and when it gets really bad, she shouts or tears at her hair. Things go downhill very quickly.
These emotional scenes compose the whole film, but they don’t follow from each other naturally without the aid of the voice-over which ties everything together. Cristi expresses her emotions on-camera and describes them in the narration, but in neither does she present the unfolding of a coherent story. She’s very expressive about her feelings visually and verbally, but these isolated scenes spliced together occasionally border the absurd without intending to, both by their fragmentary content and incoherent juxtaposition. In one moment Cristi waves angrily at red fog in the countryside; in the next, she stands on a cliff overlooking the sea, her green dress flowing in the wind.
We glean everything about her story from the voice-over accompanying the amalgamation of scenes, but learn little. The writing is repetitive in an effort to get across the emotion, but the film suffers by its circularity. Spoken, it pretends to be ad-libbed, and fails to be convincing. It tries to be profound on a profound topic, but doesn’t quite get there. At face value though, some of the writing is pretty good: ‘I was losing my mind in a delirium’, she says, ‘and my heart was yearning for warmth’. Cristi expresses herself with lyricism. It’s the delivery and integration into an incoherent string of images which is unconvincing.
The editing propels the film forward sometimes, but these moments attempt to foreshadow something more interesting than that which actually occurs, promising more than the film delivers. Things get symbolic when Cristi, who misses her family, surrounds herself in a dark, red room with televisions playing home videos. Themes of drowning plague Cristi, who says she is ‘stuck in the deep, drowning’ — a parallel, perhaps, to the horrors experienced by refugees whose perilous journeys to seek refuge in Europe can end in tragedy. But the metaphors don’t save the film as a whole.
The story is personal and important: that of a young woman emigrating from her home and integrating into a new and foreign society, finding herself as she negotiates her relationship with cultures old and new, familiar and foreign. It’s not a very emotionally deep story though, and the film precludes that. A girl is happy, then she’s sad. There’s no growth or trajectory to follow; just the sudden shift for reasons unknown. The lack of particular context means the story might be anyone’s, but it also detracts from the cinematic experience when an absence of detail makes relating to Cristi difficult. She cannot but be two-dimensional without her own story. And when knowing her becomes difficult, she becomes a concept rather than a person. She never quite comes alive. We’re not there with her, experiencing the waves of emotion. We’re just observers to her inner drama, heavy on teenage angst but light on substance. ■
Runtime: 11 minutes
Genre: Dramatic Short
Language: English, Romanian
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4242 has so far been selected for 30 film festivals and has received awards including Junior Winner (Special Jury Prize) at the Near Nazareth Festival in Israel, the Award of Merit Special Mention (Young Filmmaker — 17 and younger) at the Best Shorts Competition in Los Angeles, and the Award of Merit (Young Filmmaker — 17 and younger) at the IndieFest Film Awards.
Sara Eustáquio, the film’s director and co-writer, is a Portuguese filmmaker who shot her first short film at age 14 with a small digital camera. The film, Elizabeth, is a story of teenage bullying which has reached over 50,000 views on YouTube to date. Her work has involved her in video productions with local schools and youth associations in Portugal and the U.S. She has also been involved in projects of Human Lab Corporation, a film company in Kolkata, India.
Eustáquio recently completed an intensive summer filmmaking programme at New York Film Academy, where she completed her latest work, the short horror film Mirror. She intends to study film in the U.S.
Watch the trailer for 4242:
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: Cristina Caldararu in ‘4242’. Courtesy; Sara Eustáquio.