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Le Cinéma Selections: Review of THE CHICKEN by Neo Sora

In this recurring series, we review a film currently playing at Le Cinéma Club, the free short & medium-length curated film site. Then, if relevant, we pair it with a short film currently available in the Miniflix library.

Still from Neo Sora’s THE CHICKEN (2020)

When is it okay to kill and when is it not? Is it ever okay? What about letting someone (or something) die or suffer alone? These are the questions happening beneath the vibrant, haunting THE CHICKEN. Director Neo Sora places us in modern New York City, with a young couple getting ready to move to a bigger, better place. They’re also days away from having their first child and starting a family in the big city.

The weather is hot, the traffic noisy and the rent sky high. A cousin and visitor from Japan acts as our surrogate to the unfolding events, helping to both de-center and heighten the modern American-ness of the city. If the whole New York City landscape seems disorienting in Sora’s vision, that’s because it is. Complemented with powerful images and an incredible use of plot-driven reversals, THE CHICKEN is an excellent short film example of provoking with cinematic form and with ideas.

The turning point for the film happens as the cousin sees a man laying down on the street and shouting incoherently. Incredibly concerned, he insists on doing something for the man. But his cousin (and introduction to American custom), initially dismisses it, saying “He’s probably just drunk” and “You get lots of crazy people in New York.” But eventually the harm is unmistakable, the man clearly in distress, and the two go down to help. They call an ambulance who seemingly take him away (we never know). An insert shot of liquid working its way down the concrete suddenly convicts the man previously unconcerned.

From then begins a cascading series of reverberances and repetitions, all swirling around the key moral questions of how to handle an ailing life (human or animal). Neither cousin ends up willing to kill a live chicken they brought home for dinner. It’s suggested that this is a reaction to the man left indisposed on the street. And it’s even more ironic of a reversal given that the husband and soon-to-be-father killed a fly at the beginning of the film. Yet the White American wife, preparing for an imminent full term pregnancy, kills the chicken with ease and strange serenity. As if the universe hears her, hours later her water breaks and it’s off to the hospital.

A life for a death…or is it a death for a death? The short film wisely doesn’t tell us the outcome of the birth, but instead leaves us with an ominous, striking image. The cousin grabs a towel to clean up the water and gelatinous membranes, but a splotch of blood mixes in and we’re left with a red-stained fluid slowly forming across the floorboard.

It’s up to the viewer whether this means biblical justice, resignation to the continuing order of destruction, or something else. THE CHICKEN does a lot in its less than 15 minute running time. Themes of the environment, of failing infrastructure, of the moral reckoning with any death and more, all deftly handled behind lived-in performances and a smart sense of camerawork and editing.

Our Miniflix Companion Pick: NO CRYING AT THE DINNER TABLE by Carol Nguyen.

Still from NO CRYING AT THE DINNER TABLE (2019)

NO CRYING AT THE DINNER TABLE is a documentary, but it carries a lot of the same themes and ideas you can find in THE CHICKEN. Director Carol Nguyen interviews her family members individually, then lets them all listen to each other’s responses. What gets revealed is a litany of family secrets, intimate traumas and a sense that everyone is trying to deal with the modern American landscape in their own way.

Generational conflict comes up early, particularly from Carol’s sister, who struggles to connect with the others and has her own secrets. But all things have a reason, and we quickly learn why Carol’s father and daughter may be so guarded and withdrawn. These two films connect by being so much about the immigrant experience. Who they are (the real life family in NO CRYING and the fictitious characters from THE CHICKEN), who they’ve become, who they want to be, are all very much shaped by being in a place where they had to learn to conform to customs and ways.

Both shorts also take on life and death head-on, including the guilt that comes with being witness to (and feeling complicit in) death. Neither leaves with concrete answers, but only the hope that the struggle shows an ethical commitment and a desire to transcend the darkness around us…to find the light at the end of a long, winding tunnel that is the modern world.

You can watch THE CHICKEN until this Friday through Le Cinéma Club.

NO CRYING AT THE DINNER TABLE is available now to stream at Miniflix.TV.

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Miniflix

Miniflix

The first online platform for award-winning short films. Start watching today http://miniflix.tv also available in the AppStore and Google Play.

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