In her new monthly column LIFE IS SHORT, Naomi Alexander embarks on a worldly exploration through the lens of short films, weaving tapestries where life and art collide.
According to Chinese legend, an invisible red cord connects a pair of destined lovers, resistant to time, place and circumstance. Fastened around the little finger of each lover, the magical Red Thread of Fate may twist, stretch or tangle—but not once will it break.
In Sri-Lankan British filmmaker Anushka Naanayakkara’s BAFTA-winning short film, one entity made entirely of various types of colourful fabric spits a length of red string at another fashioned from the cleanest, whitest wool, spinning out A Love Story (2016) that arrows right into the heart of the world.
Birthed from “a personal experience”, this story sticks the landing in a landscape riddled with tales of love found and lost by opting for selective complexity. Written by Naanayakkara and Elena Ruscombe-King, A Love Story never imposes specificity upon its characters or narrative even on its fabric-and-fluff turf. It provides only that which is necessary to anchor the viewer for its seven-minute runtime: two lovers, a dreamlike backdrop, one mysterious foe.
Predictably, the aforementioned complexity derived from production, where much thought was given to sound, music, choice of material, as well as other cinematic aspects. But that does not mean the film appears incomplete or falls short in delivering its message.
Rather than hastening to fill every gap, Naanayakkara and Ruscombe-King utilize such diegetic apertures by allowing the viewer’s imagination to run wildly through them, enabling the story to take on various interpretations via one’s associations with intimacy and heartbreak. This malleability ensures that fragments of every story are reflected within its own and vice versa, propelling the stop-motion animation above and beyond, and carving a place in the history of love lore in an offbeat display of textures and patterns.
So what then can be gleaned from A Love Story’s narrative?
To put it simply: two entities fan the flames of romance in a spellbinding display of fluff and wool, inciting a love affair that both brightens and eventually burns against crushing darkness. The result may be catastrophic, but there’s real beauty here, in every knot and stitch formed between these characters in the thick of their honeymoon phase conveying our very human need to connect with and stay close to the ones we love.
Even the frailty of love is explored in a stunning revelation, the splitting and snapping of the cords that once bound them symbolizing a love lost better than words ever could. There is no doubt that Nanayakkara is exceptional at her craft.
Genderless entities in an ethereal landscape hardly reflect humanity’s complex wiring within the very real world in which we live, but Naanayakkara urges us to look beyond such categories and within ourselves to engage with the characters through the roles that they play and their actions. Are you the sender or the receiver? The heartbreaker or the heartbroken?
Psychotherapist David Richo writes, “The way we were first loved and the ways we have been loved ever since form our definition of what love means to us.” This idea is implemented in the film when monochromatic Entity #1 slowly and surely gains both fabric and colour at the inception of their interaction with Entity #2 (already shot through with various colourful strings, hinting at a past teeming with ex-lovers) that results in the very “language” by which the former professes their love for the latter. This idea of give and take extends beyond the course of their relationship, cleverly indicating the passage of time.
Entity #2 remains my personal favourite of the two characters due to the duality of their nature: being both the victim of the mysterious malignant force and the initiator of the separation. A line from Nicole Homer’s Underbelly describes this character perfectly: “Let me / say it plain: I loved someone / and I failed at it. Let me say it / another way: I like to call myself wound / but I will answer to knife.” The complexity of this dichotomy and its effects are never understated, allowing the viewer to wholly empathize with Entity #2’s suffering under the plight of the malevolent force, as well as support Entity #1’s decision to choose solitude as opposed to companionship.
The malevolent force in question is never decidedly defined either, adding more fuel to the metaphorical fire that represents the story’s pliability. With no definitive attributes that betray the truth of its existence (is it an illness? Third-party influence?), discerning the origin of this spasmodic spool of pitch-dark wool is outright impossible, shifting the focus of its appearance entirely to that which it is capable of.
If the red string binds, the black wool breaks, disconnects, undoes. The black wool turns lover against lover, gives way to isolation and loneliness and wrath, disrupts the love language completely.
Under its influence, the duality of the colour red is exemplified: where once the red string initiated the connection between the two entities, it seals the lips of Entity #2 thereafter, obstructing the very means by which they both shared and fought for love. It’s a chilling and tragic blow that resounds with utmost clarity and, like a pebble in a lake, begins the painstaking process of separation.
In an interview with Directors’ Notes, Naanayakkara reveals that the ending of A Love Story was rewritten to reflect the truth as opposed to happiness. Since then I have wondered what that happy ending would have looked like. Would forgiveness give way to reconciliation? Would the entities have conquered the darkness that forced them apart?
Ultimately, these abstractions are pointless, and only serve to distract from the underlying message of the short: that love always comes knocking, the real challenge is discerning when to answer.