Genevieve (2018). 1:01 minutes. Directed by Natasha Cantwell. Featuring Genevieve Brott and Felise Morales.
Natasha Cantwell’s website defines her film work as “embrac[ing] awkwardness while drawing from the absurdity of human behavior.” Cantwell’s short film, Genevieve, certainly fits this shockingly astute description.
Genevieve is a minute-long film opening with one woman approaching another to administer a scalp massage. Upon commencing her work, the masseuse discovers large boils under her client’s beautiful, red curls. As she proceeds with the massage, the masseuse’s face contorts with discomfort and disgust while the client remains blissfully ignorant of the visceral impact produced by her unusual condition. She remains relaxed, enjoying the pampering, until the masseuse inexplicably taps on one of the boils. As a single rivulet of blood runs down the client’s forehead, her face expresses a range of emotions.
This film is uncomfortable to watch, as it straddles the line between experimental and horror. The soundtrack is a continuous stream of tense notes and wet, crackling noises, exacerbating the unease projected by the images. The camera cuts from the perplexed masseuse to the oblivious client to the continuous discoveries of the boils on the client’s scalp.
The masseuse’s struggle to hide her shock illustrates our need as a society to downplay appropriately strong reactions to unexpected experiences. The camera movement and the eerie soundtrack emphasize how we can see the unusual with our eyes and hear it with our ears, yet still struggle with the manner in which we do or do not acknowledge or intervene with what is incontrovertibly within our realm of reality. The film cleverly evokes the intuitive response we so often fight to ignore in order to avoid confrontation, whether physical, mental, or emotional.
Watching the film over and over again, a deeper meaning begins to reveal itself: the human process of psychological and physical transformation over time. Our culture often uses the analogy of a butterfly—the beautiful, complicated manner in which we transform through physical metamorphosis, and come out bright and free on the other side. Genevieve proposes a different portrayal: discomfort, disgust, rejection, judgement, bloat, festation, and sharp, sudden points of pain that shock and take our breath.
Cantwell is masterful in her provocation. The film agitates, challenges, and forces us to confront how we mediate between personal discomfort and the moral and ethical considerations of others. Genevieve is a shrewd device of social contemplation.