The camera is to cinema what the brush is to the canvas. It is from the lens that the story is written, the narrative pulse is dictated by the shots, the sequences, and the way they end up fitting into the final montage. All the elements of cinematographic language must be perfectly aligned so that the director’s voice can reach the audience. In Òran na h-Eala (2022), director Steve Exeter takes advantage of every tool that cinema provides to conceive a film that is both a tribute to the seventh art and a way to re-imagine a classic.
This thirteen-minute short film contains the essence of the original work that inspired it. From the opening titles and until the curtain falls in front of our eyes, surrendering to the visual force of the staging. As in the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Red Shoes (1948), the use of color plays a vital role to the point of becoming a character. The obsession and passion of the central figure is expressed with a varied color palette that changes between warm and cool tones depending on the mood.
Moira Shearer (Shannon Davidson) puts her heart and soul into dance, ballet is the meaning of her life. As she rehearses tirelessly, filmmakers Michael Powell (Alastair Thomson Mills) and Emeric Pressburger (Alec Westwood) pressure her to star in their next film. Moira just wants to be a dancer and feels that movies will be a distraction. It is at this point where the script, written by the director himself, begins to delve into Shearer’s psyche. Òran na h-Eala feeds on every heartbeat of its main actor, the structure of the story rests all its weight on the character of Moira, making her the main pivot to give mobility to the narrative.
Shannon Davidson delivers a forceful and powerful performance. Body language makes us connect with the character and their emotions. When those close-ups embrace her face we can see her fears, frustrations and anxieties, her gaze conveys to us what words do not say. Davidson is clearly in total control of her histrionic registers, allowing her character to move freely and organically.
Many filmmakers have been nurtured by the Powell and Pressburger classics, some turning to references to find creative solutions to staging dilemmas and others revering the film that has stood the test of time and including it in the list of their favorites. From the choreography of Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain (1952), through Jake LaMotta dancing in the ring of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980) and even Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010), there are countless films that have gone to drink from that fountain. In the case of Exeter, it is more than evident that the matter is personal and in this, his second short film, he goes all out to honor this pillar of cinema.
Òran na h-Eala is the perfect companion to The Red Shoes, addressing with creative freedom and biographical pretense a chapter in the life of Moira Shearer. It is not that this short film is a strict biopic, but moreover the fiction is drawn with a chronicled nuance that shines a light on the story behind one of the key moments in the history of cinema. The director shows maturity and determination in the staging, the details of each frame are perfectly balanced.
Thomas Dobbie’s cinematography is one of the high points of this short film, his camera always finds the perfect angle to get the most out of each shot. In the first part, he bombards us with exquisite close-ups and when the film reaches its climax, the lens drags us to the depths of Moira’s soul with movements that change between the subtle and the abrupt with absolute precision. Garry Maddison’s editing and colorization work plays a fundamental role in making sense of those images captured by Dobbie’s lens.
The other piece that completes the audio-visual universe of Òran na h-Eala is the original music by Mike Lukey and Arkadi Troitsky. Lukey provides the “Song of the Swan” performed exquisitely by Shannon Davidson and plays a fundamental role in giving insight to the central character. While Troitsky puts his signature on the composition for the ballet sequence that drags us to the dreamlike part of the film when Moira’s character reaches her catharsis.
Òran na h-Eala is a dazzling work that combines the elements of cinematographic language very well and that delivers the best in its staging and technical handling.