A man, alone at Christmas, spots a lone fish at a pet store trapped between the glass of the tank and some seaweed. The man sees nothing but the fish’s loneliness and pain, as well as the futility of its existential struggle.
He decides to bring the situation to the attention of the pet store owners, but is faced with their casual indifference. Dismissed with curt politeness, the man decides to rescue it. But the situation spirals out of control in unexpected ways, with the fish’s fate hanging in the balance.
Writer-director Tommaso Pitta orchestrates a beautifully, subtly absurd short dramedy about struggle, pain and existence, charting one man’s journey to save a fellow creature from suffering, only to come face to face with his own.
Adapted from the Michele Mari short story of the same name, the absurdity doesn’t come from strange circumstances or an oddball cast of characters, but the way human beings can project their emotions onto situations, how they attempt to muscle their mindsets onto another and what lengths they’ll go to in order to alleviate suffering.
The film’s strengths lie in its writing and performances, which keep its emotions believable and true to the characters, whether it’s the main character’s sadness and loneliness or the pet store owner’s crass, often glib responses to his increasingly agitated customer. Actor Peter Faulkner offers a deeply funny but emotionally resonant performance of a man who is lonely and sad, and who deeply connects with the suffering he sees in the fish. The apparent depression or sadness he feels is played with sincerity, but the increasing desperation and heroic intensity he brings in saving the fish makes for moments of comedy.
The man goes to extremes to try to rescue his fish — an arc that is compassionate, sometimes violently emotional and unpredictably humorous, rendered in muted lighting and colors and naturalistic camerawork. For a film set in a bustling city, visually the short has a remarkable sense of isolation and quiet, and though it’s not set in the middle of the night, it has a similar quality of disconnection and isolation.
“All the Pain In the World” is in some ways a comedy of misplaced intensity, when a character applies intense force for what appears to be a slight, silly goal. But in the end, the man and the fish are somehow fused together, bringing the man face to face with his own sense of futility, sadness and helplessness. The ending is perhaps downbeat, but it works because it’s realistic to the character — and perhaps to the human condition in general. It’s a moment of reckoning we all have to face at some point when we realize there’s only so much we can control when it comes to the painful vagaries of human existence.