An outdoor location, by daylight. We see a medium shot of a park in London. Three are sitting on a bench. The camera is behind them, surprising them in a moment of idle idleness.
Two of them are colored boys. The first, more corpulent, sings a rap song and sits on the back of a bench with a vague bully air. The other, more skinny, echoes the song mimicking the electric sound of percussion with his voice. Completing the trio a girl whom we immediately identify as the white girlfriend of our neighborhood bully. Pale, but dressed in dark and with a dark demeanor, she listen to the song while enjoying the sun and longing for a lighter with which to set fire to the butt she turns around in her hands.
Within a few shots, Nathan Small and Luke Tredget, the directors of this little short (Dance for me), put out one after the other a series of stereotypes, expecting the automatic reaction of a viewer who is accustomed to arrive at hasty conclusions.
The tune that is being hummed, in fact, is already aggressive and tough and prepares us to an ‘on the road’ story, potentially violent and full of strong tones. The fast rhythm of the script that follows portrays with few short words an impoverished social context. This impression is confirmed by the fact that the girl does not even have a lighter and the only passer-by’s who could be asked for one keep well away from the bench, but not far enough for the “boss’s” loud appreciations.
All the viewer’s thoughts match exactly those that would go through the head of the young guy who comes by walking his dog and has the misfortune to wander too close to the bench.
Blond, with a long but not groomed beard, wearing a tracksuit and walking leisurely (with no rush in his pockets), the young man holds a cigarette and it is therefore inevitable that the girl will ask him if he has a lighter. A collision between two worlds is necessary.
The brief moment of shots and reverse shots that follows is perhaps the most self aware part of the entire short movie. Firstly we have a medium POV shot from the bench, that shows us the approaching young man. In this part of the short the use of a stabilized camera, and the boss voice over create an immediate impression of restlessness, activating a larval suspense mechanism. The reverse shot that follows is taken from behind the newcomer. A more unstable hand-held shot defines a sense of insecurity that gets amplified by the next shot of the boy who tries to pretend not to notice the trio on the bench. His attempt to not look continues even afterwards, when the girl has now asked for the lighter and the guy tries to turn it on while looking elsewhere.
The meeting between these characters is therefore marked from the beginning by a number of denied looks. The young man, as the viewer, has already judged and labeled the trio and has a certain fear, despite the nice sunny day and the impression of tranquility around.
The dialogue that comes out of this situation is therefore doomed to lead to misunderstandings. The dialogue is fast and unsettling.
In an effort to turn the cigarette on with downcast eyes and perpetually in search of somewhere else, the guy almost burns the girls’ face. She reacts piqued, taking the lighter and then deciding to keep it as for a punishment. As for the boss, he comes down from his elevated position and puts on a threatening look, scaring the newcomer to the point that, almost pleading, he pretends to be broke and says that he has no money.
“Looking at those shoes on your feet, I should be the one to give you money”, he snaps at the other denouncing with his words not only the racist bias the blond guy showed, but above all that of the viewer, who is forced to confront the cinematographic stereotypes of the world.
The shots of Dance for me are allusive and explanatory at the same time. They recount with flat linearity what happens, but at the same time allow the viewer to interpret what he sees, not as a simple dialogue between strangers, but as the beginning of a potential dramatic crime.
In this dual position the short assumes the value of a very intriguing indictment. It forces us to face our habit of categorizing the other, exposes our substantial and often unconscious racism, and when the entire mechanism of the narrative slips into a surrealistic standstill (when finally the black boy, not knowing what else to ask the blond guy, almost as a challenge demands that he dance for him) every expectation is destabilized.
Meanwhile the blond guy dances for real, at first embarrassed and then relaxed, and his movements give him a chance to get to know a less obvious, clumsy, but more authentic way of looking at the world.
Supported by very good actors (Luke Newberry, the blond guy, is great in his more ambiguous and fuzzy role), Dance for me builds an epiphany of the banal more than an awareness, and leaves to the viewer all the job of understanding and possibly even going beyond.
Translated from original italian. Source: Close-up