Junior Messenger

By Azeem Bhati | Drama
A young doctor steps outside amid the pandemic to make a phone call.

A young doctor steps outside for a moment after a busy evening, trying to grab some time to herself before she sets about her next task.

She takes out a sheet of names and numbers and makes a phone call. He's calling the husband of a woman, who's stressed about not hearing about his spouse for nearly three days. As he berates her, he and the doctor engage in a subtle yet stressful dance of agony and compassion that reveals the hope and toll of the pandemic.

Written and directed by Azeem Bhati, this powerful narrative short is a snapshot of a single conversation by one character. But its tight narrative scope is one of its strengths, capturing the humanity of a huge historical moment through an everyday event in someone's life. With both restraint and precision, it captures the emotional devastation of the pandemic, particularly on the health care workers at the front lines.

Part of the restraint is the naturalistic approach to filmmaking, where the stripped-down images and sound design allow the writing to come to the fore. A young doctor has a simple task, though it isn't by any means easy: she has to update a husband about the latest news about his wife. The call seems business as usual at first, but as the two move beyond the usual roles, they make a connection.

The movement of the dialogue is beautifully paced and calibrated, beginning with the warmly polite, professional introduction of the doctor to the patient's partner. As the partner expresses his frustration, the conversation could easily veer into several minefields, some of which are narrowly avoided.

Actor Hussina Raja, as the only performer we see onscreen, captures the struggle of the doctor to keep her composure while battling her own fatigue and exhaustion. It takes a lot of grace for her to remain as patient and understanding as possible. But that compassion is rewarded, and the doctor receives some grace of her own during a long, harrowing night.

Much has been said about the heroism of doctors, nurses and other health care and essential workers during the pandemic. But "Junior Messenger" captures the work beyond the medical treatment itself, focusing on the human-to-human interactions that became more distant and removed by necessity. The film recognizes the emotional toll of serving as conduits between patients and loved ones who were not allowed to visit. We sense how grueling it can be, as witnessed in the final moments when the doctor checks her list, takes a deep breath and makes the next call. But it also reminds us that even the most cursory of conversation can be conduits for kindness, understanding and even gratitude. In such difficult times, such qualities take on more importance than ever before.

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