Things we don’t talk about

In Vitro” is a short film written and directed by Toby Stephens (Captain Flint on Starz’s Black Sails and many other roles).

I love the genre of short film because a director doesn’t beat around the bush, he doesn’t have time for pleasantries, or small talk, or foreplay.

The first 2 minutes slam it all in your face: a cheating husband (Rupert Penry-Jones), a disappointed mistress (Stephanie Leonidas), an inconsolable wife who lost a baby (Anna-Louise Plowman). Am I to hate the husband, despise the mistress, sympathise with the wife?

Then the story takes off, and it is impossible to take sides. The power of the film is that it doesn’t look away, doesn’t shy away from the heavy stuff. There is a scene where the husband accidentally smells his fingers and is stunned into memories of a passionate office quickie because the girl’s smell is still on his hand. Now hold on, this is private, this is painful, this is something you instinctively look away from, yet the film doesn’t.

The film is made with so much love for details. There is a poster on the office wall: a woman’s face with a finger pressed against her lips. The husband sits at the desk with this poster behind him, trying to swear the man into silence. The wife’s hand possessively gripping a sperm-jar, claiming it and swiping the husband’s hand away. The empty space between them. The brightly lit bedroom with very white sheets and very red blood.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the film is its unconditional empathy towards all characters, this gut-felt acceptance of them, without reservations, without judgement. The film just lets them be. It mourns the loss of the baby and the wife’s despair. It also mourns the utter loneliness of the husband, reduced to a role of a stallion sperm provider but longing for more. The film doesn’t really scold the young mistress either, it just offers her a thrill of adultery and then a fair share of suffering afterwards.

There are some things which we don’t talk about. Or if we do, we take sides. Lonely, shameful, painful things. This film talks about them, and does it without taking sides, with a lot of humanity and dignity.