Genevieve Snow is a proper, modest young woman who teaches piano at a school, where she resides with other proper, modest young women. They are supervised — or perhaps guarded — by a stern, irascible older headmistress, who even rules over the school phone. Within this stultifying environment, Genevieve wilts in an unsatisfying life, a spinster looking down the barrel of a lonely existence.
One day, Genevieve is spotted by a man named Nigel driving past the school, who hears her summoned over the intercom. He decides to call her, and they have a conversation that is strange, intriguing and sinister. Intrigued, she continues her telephone correspondence with mysterious Nigel, which becomes stranger and more oddly seductive with each contact. When he finally reveals his ultimate secret, their mutual attraction may lead to fatal consequences.
Written and directed by Peter Long, this moody, surreal short drama achieves an intriguingly sinister and hypnotic spell, much like the same one exerted by the enigmatic caller that captivates the mousy, lonely titular character.
Nigel’s spell over Genevieve is cast by the almost narcotic cadence of his language and suggestive, insinuating thoughts, and the craftsmanship also achieves a similar opiate-like quality through its singular dialogue and darkly beguiling imagery, rendered in beautifully gloomy black-and-white cinematography.
The storytelling takes its time establishing its rules of engagement for the audience, slowly constructing Genevieve’s uniquely cloistered, stultifying world and her sense of isolation. The visuals are reminiscent of Fellini with their luminous use of black and white and their mix of the darkly fantastical, and like Fellini, the film has a dreamlike feel. The strange phone calls Genevieve begins receiving from Nigel, however, hint at a bigger, more peculiar world for her, full of strange fixations and appetites that are off-putting. But in such a circumscribed world, Nigel’s attention is also flattering. Actor Beth Buchanan captures with delicacy and understatement how Genevieve falls under Nigel’s spell, and her arc also guides the narrative shift into a strange, odd love story — one that will transport Genevieve outside of her milieu, with grisly consequences.
Released in 2000 and the winner of the Silver Lion for Best Short Film at Venice that year, “A Telephone Call for Genevieve Snow” has an elongation of rhythm and narrative that feels classic and almost old-fashioned — a style before digitized filming and editing made the lightning-paced, effects-laden style we’re now used to possible, perhaps. But that more languorous, sensuous rhythm is part of the spell cast by this retelling of the Red Riding Hood fairy tale. It explores the classic allure of darkness and deviance, a set of impulses that have always bedeviled humanity throughout its recorded history. In a world so limited by social convention and expectations, such impulses seem to persist through the crack of civilized society and pull at us with their siren call.