Smile Is A Phantasmagorical Tone Poem

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No words are spoken in Smile. Not a single line of dialogue is uttered. Yet the film packs a mighty punch, enough to knock the wind out of any audience. Long stares, eerie soundscapes and breathtaking visuals are its currency. By forfeiting dialogue, writer-director, Precious Rashidi, is able to dig deeper in his brief but bold exploration of the human psyche.

It begins with a wide shot of a figure sitting on a park bench, legs crossed, shoulders slouched. The person is sporting a grey hoodie and black track pants which makes them seem like a phantom amidst all the beautiful greenery. An overhead shot reveals a portrait of a man being drawn by the character; on the bench beside them lies a flower and sellotape. 

The next scene shows presumably the same character, now on the edge of a cliff; a half-finished drawing at her feet. She stands up and all of a sudden lets out a piercing, high-pitched scream. Frustrated, she tears up the drawing and tosses the pieces in the wind. And then a young man, also swaddled in black like the artist, approaches her slowly. They trade stares. He smiles, a sheepish yet sinister-looking smile. She frowns in return.

According to the director, Smile is a film about the complexities of the human mind, about a character, an artist, whose unsatisfaction with her life affects her creative ability. The cliff is a metaphor for challenges faced during the long, lonely process of creating art. The man in black represents public perception, pressures from without. The film even ends with a quote from Taylor Swift which drives home the thesis: “Here I was again, forcing laughter, faking smiles. Same old tired, lonely place.”

The beautiful thing about the medium of film and especially films like Smile is that it is open to interpretation; it appears as different things to different people. After the screening, one member of the audience mentioned that the film was about grief and how we cope with it through art. The smiling man was a friend and the artist is attempting to deal with his demise by creating portraits of him. I, on the other hand, thought it was about the Jungian Shadow, an often-unexplored part of our minds and a go-to motif for many a surrealist filmmaker. I imagine that repeated viewings will yield multiple interpretations which is a testament to how vast Smile is despite its 6-minute runtime and general absence of dialogue.

A tone poem with shots that seem ripped straight out of a nightmare.

Joseph Osamudiamen

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