Short Film Review “Stella Maris”




First, the Recap:

Will the forfeiture of life and the subsequent erosion of peace or any sense of overall wellness be something one could actually bear with ease? In itself, we would assuredly hope not, as our very being cries out for the companionship of those we love and cherish, and we are depleted when this is ripped away. It is wartime, and a lonely wife named Lydia (JoAnn Nordstrom) anxiously awaits the return of her husband.  However, combat is a harsh taskmaster, and when it becomes evident her longings are dashed, she struggles to accept it while also maintain a grasp on hope through her son Eli (Maddox Hayward).

With a fervent desire to see her boy excel and have the honor of singing in the local church’s children’s choir, Lydia strives to teach her son the words and tune to the songs, despite the constant hesitations of the church preacher Father Joseph (Jim Garrow), who feels Eli should be focused on resting rather than attempting to sing. Refusing to believe or acknowledge this, Lydia continues to drive Eli forward, even though there is now evidence something isn’t right with the young boy. Finally asking for the town doctor (William Le Good) to examine him, a devastating prognosis is given, which only adds to both Lydia’s worst fears and stringent defiance, believing that her son is still fine. But with the inevitable now looming, it’s only a matter of time when Lydia’s only choice will be pained sufferance.

Next, my Mind:

Given the weight of the thematic elements being explored in the debut short film effort from writer/director/producer/editor Kalainithan Kalaichelvan, one might expect there to be an overly heavy or, perhaps moreso, melodramatic manner in which the narrative is written and executed with. While this isn’t really the case, which is good overall, this 17-minute first project somehow felt just a bit lacking in the actual emotional quotient and dramatic impact this reviewer was personally looking for.  Yes, the tone and mood are established, but there still seemed to be that last level of gravitas needed to really take the story to the place it went and have the kind of ultimate affecting punch throughout it should.  Now, that said, there are moments here and there that do capture this, especially during the deeply emotive finale, but it’s that atmosphere where the heart is absolutely gripped and pulled at that I would have liked to have seen engage me the whole time. The black and white color palette for the film was very apropos, however, and definitely gave the “olden days” feel to the project. I’ve had the pleasure of watching some new indie filmmakers from their first film to current improve and develop in style as they go, and I have no doubts we will be seeing more from the young Kalaichelvan.

Nordstrom is the strong point here in her role as Lydia, a woman totally immersed in grief already over the loss of a husband who then gets to confront another even more unanticipated parting that threatens to push her over the edge of what she is willing to believe is reality. Watching as she endeavors to push her son to learn the music for the choral songs even in the face of the literal fact he cannot actually go and participate due to his illness is quite heartbreaking, as you can feel this kind of determined frustration she has, which Nordstrom does bring out of the character. Hayward is solid as Eli, a boy just in the beginnings of the next stage of his life who suddenly gets stricken with a life-altering, and sadly, life-threatening illness.  Yet, in the face of this, he tries to remain strong, in many ways even stronger than his mother, as Eli has at least come to the realization of what is going to come about and while certainly fearful of it, he accepts it, trying to do everything he can do to follow the doctor’s orders even while his mother doggedly insists on his pursuit of other things. Hayward embodies this boy’s struggle with fine results.

Supporting turns are present from Garrow as the town’s pastor who more than believes along the same mindset as Eli does, trying to convince Lydia to do the same, Le Good as the town’s doctor who has the unfortunate duty to advise Lydia about her son’s terminal condition, and Cesar Erba as a soldier returned home from the war.  In total, “Stella Maris” is a decent debut short film, not the best this reviewer has seen in the ways mentioned and sought after above, but by far not the worst.  There is found here an absolute proof of filmmaking ability that simply needs to be further nurtured and developed, which will undoubtedly show in future projects.  I do truly hope to have the chance to see what comes next.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading.



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