Omeleto

The Referee

By Jesper Quistgaard | Drama
A soccer referee finds a neglected boy and takes action with unforeseen consequences.

Torben, an ex-alcoholic estranged from his family, lives alone and spends most of his time obsessed with soccer. When he’s not watching old game footage at home, he’s a referee at his neighborhood club league games, where he’s stern, tough and no-nonsense, as hard on the players as he is on himself.

But one day he notices a young girl in the neighborhood named Nikoline playing soccer by herself late in the evening, seemingly on her own. When she knocks on his door one night, looking for food and company, they develop a bond, looking out for one another and eventually becoming friends.

But when Niko’s alcoholic and absentee father confronts Torben, it forces Torben to look at his own past regrets and actions — and find a way to heal them going forward into the future.

Writer-director Jesper Quistgaard, along with co-writer Nicklas Clark, has crafted an absorbing drama about fathers and their relationships with their children. Distinguished by excellent acting, insightful writing, responsive camerawork and an approach that honors its characters and their struggles, it offers a story about love, redemption and what it really means to grapple with regret.

The film is on the longer side for a short, but it painstakingly constructs Torben’s life and character, showing us the lonely tenor of his life, his cantankerous and abrasive personality and his personal struggles to avoid his past demons. The writing is resolutely character-centered, and patiently builds up the details of his life and character.

The film also takes its time to build his growing bond with neighborhood child Nikoline carefully, and the relationship has a rich arc. Through their relationship, the audience has a conduit through which we can delve deeper underneath Torben’s gruff, harsh exterior and discover the deep well of sadness he carries within him, particularly regarding the estranged relationship with his own son.

With such a rich, intimate character-focused approach to storytelling, acting is key, and the film rests on a phenomenal central performance by veteran Danish actor Kristian Halken, who captures both Torben’s hardened, cynical outer shell and his inner well of struggle. In many ways Torben is actually quite funny, but his harsh sarcasm and lack of tact push people away, and it becomes easy to see how such an approach isolates him.

But as an actor, Halken is also not afraid to be vulnerable as well, offering glimpses into the genuine store of regrets Torben tries to keep at arm’s length. Once he develops a fatherly sense of protection for Nikoline — played with great naturalness by Esther Vrist Pedersen — he opens up, and their scenes together are often quite touching to watch. It becomes easy to see why the bond softens Torben up enough for him to confront his past, leading to both a confrontation full of aching emotion and a heartwarming end.

Some may find the beginning of “The Referee” slow, especially modern audiences accustomed to fast-paced storytelling. But the slow and patient approach is deeply rewarding here, and as a result, viewers will feel as if they truly know, understand and care about Torben by the film’s end. The film asks its audience to invest the attention and patience that Torben must learn to give in his own life. But as a result, both audience and character are rewarded with an experience — and a cherished bond with another — full of meaning, hope and genuine connection.





You Might Also Like:

Bless Me Father

By Paul M. Horan | Drama
A priest has a moral dilemma when a man confesses a secret that affects his life.

The Goodnight Show

By Charlie Schwan | Drama
A virgin tries to get laid before an unstoppable asteroid ends the world.

Naysayer ft. Steven Yeun

By David M. Helman | Drama
A young father who is cut off from his son takes matters into his own hands.

Mordechai

By Benjamin Bee | Drama
An ultra-Orthodox Jew reunites with his twin brother for their father's funeral.

Retouch

By Kaveh Mazaheri | Drama
An Iranian woman's husband has an accident at home... and she just watches him die.

Stealing Silver ft. Maisie Williams

By Mark Lobatto | Drama
A woman uncovers the truth about the man living across from her.

Joseph’s Reel

By Michael Lavers | Romance
An elderly man is given the opportunity to relive one day of his life.

Cradle

By Devon Manney | Animation
A veteran soldier who loses both arms battles phantom pains and memories of a pre-war life.

Hold On

By Charlotte Scott-Wilson | Drama
A young cellist develops stage fright after a string comes lose during a big performance.

Don’t Be a Hero

By Pete Lee | Drama
A woman battles her loneliness by robbing banks as a cowboy on her lunch break.

Our Kind of Love

By Elham Ehsas and Azeem Bhati | Romance
An Afghan village girl goes on her first date in London.

Lost and Found

By Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe | Animation
A clumsy crochet dinosaur must unravel itself to save the love of its life.

Edmund the Magnificent ft. David Bradley & Ian McKellen

By Ben Ockrent | Comedy
A farmer invests his savings in a piglet.

Reception

By Joe Gillette | Romance
2 strangers at a wedding reception make an unexpected connection.

Exit Strategy

By Travis Bible | Sci-Fi
A man in a time-loop must work with his brother to prevent a catastrophic fire.


Your favorite short films you haven't seen yet.

Inspiring and insightful. Entertaining and enlightening. That's what you can expect here: no fluff. Just a steady stream of the best films delivered to your inbox.