London Short Film Festival 2021 Review: ‘Big Touch’ Provides a Big, Touching Dose of Sweet Surrealism

London Short Film Festival

One giant woman, one tiny man, and one giant leap human connection.

It only takes a moment to touch someone emotionally and make them feel heard. That is the big-hearted message of the short film Big Touch, a tale of a giant woman, which packs immense sincerity and surrealist imagery into its minuscule runtime.

The story has the feel of a fairy tale and the movement of a dream ballet in its mostly dialogue-free scenes, as a giant woman, Judy, (Astra Marie Varnado) moves through life misunderstood.  The film opens with a little girl (Arabella Frost) chastised by her mother (Carly Stewart) for messing with an elevator button. When the elevator opens, Judy emerges, and the girl runs off, terrified. Immediately, writer-director Christopher Tenzis creates sympathy for his gentle protagonist, who moves through a shadowy parking garage, filling the frame even as she is made to feel inconsequential in life.

Tenzis draws inspiration from Afro-Surrealism, and the use of forced perspective and practical effects helps give the illusion of a gigantic size. He uses a similar trick to make the man (Raymond Ejiofor), whom Judy sees on his knees, shivering, appear tiny and fragile. These two characters could not be more different in physical stature, yet they are pulled together by the power of human connection, even without words. At the climax, she touches a man and brings her to his size, and slowly but surely they share an embrace. 

London Short Film Festival

With little dialogue, the characters mime and make exaggerated motions. The searing string score, provided by Sheku Kanneh-Mason (a member of the Chineke! Orchestra that was founded for Black and minority ethnic classical musicians) hypnotizes the audience, drawing us into its gorgeously lit Afro-Surrealist realm. The action has the potential to feel maudlin and saccharine, and at first the way that people run in fear from Judy can come across as a bit melodramatic. But Tenzis handles the tone of the embrace deftly, infusing the moment with melancholy sincerity that allow us to feel the emotion behind this story of the universal craving for human connection and the power of human touch. When a massive smile spreads across Judy’s face, we cannot help but smile, too.

Tenzis has said that his aims with the film were to comment on racial prejudice and the harsh judgments people make on bodies that look different from their own. While Tenzis’s intended commentary on the Black experience might not be articulated in words, the film showcases the powerful body language, gestures, and physical chemistry of its Black actors in their moment of connection. Tenzis takes a minimalist approach with the script, stripping away the dialogue to focus on the surreal imagery and the contortions of the characters’ bodies, as each step Judy takes and each way the small man twists and turns his body reflect their inner unrest.

London Short Film Festival

With its fine cinematography and costume design and clever way it plays with proportions, Big Touch is a highly visual representation of cinema’s potential to capture pure emotion and evoke a remarkable feeling of harmony between discrete parts.

The film feels far shorter than its runtime, and is so simple in its story that it leaves us desiring more. Big Touch is a short and sweet story of what it means to be human, and feels like a warm hug; it allows us all to feel understood and eager to see how else this filmmaking team can move us next.

Big Touch will screen at Curzon Soho Cinema in London, 24th January at 3pm GMT and online starting 17th January, 2021 on Eventive.

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