It’s 1936 and Berlin is being “cleansed” by the Nazis of Jews and Roma (known more colloquially and pejoratively as gypsies) before the Olympic Games. A 7-year-old Roma girl, Helene, has avoided the purge. She is now hidden and watched over by Katharina, a tap dancer in a cabaret who knew Helene’s mother and who is now hiding Helene in her dressing room wardrobe.
Helene is like any other little girl, though — she doesn’t want to hide in the wardrobe all day, especially when there are marvelous songs, comedy routines and dances on the stage, which she sneaks out to watch. But when a newly conscripted Nazi arrives one night at the cabaret for the show and makes a pass at Katharina, Helene is discovered — and only her talent and ingenuity can save her now.
Written and directed by David Bartlett and produced by Will Poole, this Oscar-longlisted short historical drama evokes the seductive decadent Weimar-era glamour, flair and panache of yesteryear, from the theatrical moodiness of the stage lights to the burnished color palette. But underneath the visual richness lies a narrative about the innocents who suffer during struggles of power, left unbuffered and unprotected by historical and social forces beyond their control.
Built on a foundation of beautifully constructed writing and camera direction that has a sharp eye for irony, symbolism and detail, the film features two terrific performances that traverse remarkable arcs in the compressed narrative scope of a short. Actor CJ Johnson plays the alluring, glamorous Katharina as a brusque but protective guardian — not maternal in any way, but fiercely principled and talented. Young actor Sasha Watson-Lobo captures Helene’s fundamental innocence, curiosity and intelligence, never losing sight that she is, above all, a child.
Both characters must lean on their talents of captivating performance at key points of crisis in “Mousie,” which builds to a suspenseful, thriller-like climax that shrouds the film with a sinister chill and shadow. But, true to the intrepid, beguiling spirit of its main character, there is an unexpected interlude full of desperate, clever charm — one that may just save a little girl who otherwise would perish, alone, in a dark, disturbing chapter of history.