A man named Colin sits at a crowded cafe in Marseilles, France, reading and having a coffee. He's minding his own business when he's joined by a stranger, a man named George who's an English speaker like himself.
The two begin a casual chat, both bonding over being Irish men in a foreign country -- they even are familiar with George's small hometown. But as the conversation proceeds and they find seemingly common ground, the talk takes an uneasy turn as Colin finds his life knocked off its axis.
Directed by Larry Ketang and Liam White from a script written by White, this gripping short drama has an extraordinarily simple execution. Its narrative scope is confined to a single conversation between two people in one location. Its camera setup is an elegantly composed, luminously lit single static closeup shot of Colin, held for almost the entire duration of the film.
But the minimalistic visual approach brings the preeminently skillful writing of the narrative to the fore, complete with well-paced rhythms that feel authentic and natural and an ear for subtext that proves pivotal as the story progresses. And what a narrative it turns out to be, as the conversation unfolds between Colin and George, and layers of detail unfurl.
George's story is a tragic one, told by actor Corin Silva in a mostly unseen performance that becomes increasingly powerful as the film proceeds. But the crux of the film's hypnotic power rests in actor Barry Ward's nuanced performance as Colin. The camera lingers on him for almost the entire length of his conversation with George, and Colin's reactions and dawning realization slowly build the suspense, especially as George's storytelling takes an insinuating, sly turn.
Impeccably controlled and beautifully performed, "Punch Drunk" -- which was longlisted for the BAFTA for best short film -- ends with a seemingly casual, conventional note of leave-taking. But under the surface is a sinister, ominous wallop, made all the more potent because of what is unsaid by both George and Colin. Implication is a weapon here, both in story and style, and it makes for a quietly riveting film that slowly reels in the viewer with increasing tension, only to be released into a disquieting conclusion. What happens next is left to the imagination, for Colin and the viewer -- and it's an uneasy, unsettling prospect for both.