By Emile Schlesser | Drama
A young man throws a party during the pandemic. Then the police show up...

A young man has been throwing together gatherings and parties in the middle of the pandemic, inviting friends over to drink, smoke and talk. But some of his neighbors — including an elderly lady living alone across the street — notice the parties and don’t approve.

Even the friends run the gamut in terms of their attitudes towards lockdown, stringent restrictions and just how seriously they should take the pandemic. But the whole group is forced to confront the idea of social responsibility when the police arrive at the gathering to investigate.

Written and directed by Emile Schlesser, this short drama is both sharply rendered social observation about a very current event and an examination of proximity, connection and community — a set of ideas that have been challenged and stretched to the limit by the pandemic.

Filmed with intelligent, intimate naturalism, the story is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic on an immediate level, putting viewers in the mindset of a young man who remains unconvinced of its urgency. Though his own grandmother died in a locked-down nursing home, he’s convinced that she passed away from social isolation. Perhaps out of grief and defiance, he continues to host his girlfriend and friends at his apartment, both for the joy of gathering and the avoidance of isolation.

Much of the storytelling sets up the social dynamics, both in the circle of friends and in the neighborhood. Encounters with the elderly neighbor offer nuance and complexity, showing that the party host does feel a sense of neighborliness and concern for his immediate community.

The immediacy and intimacy of the editing and camera also take pains to capture the primal pleasure of social gatherings, from the warm rhythms of conversation to the rush of dancing as the group loses themselves to the electro-indie pulse of Berlin group Bloodhype. We can see why human beings have an innate need to belong, gather and connect, and understand why they’d defy law and policy to do so.

Collectively, too, the cast of the short captures the range of contradictions, from vague abstract concern to casual disregard of social responsibility. Actor Tommy Schlesser ably captures both his character’s concern for his neighbor — a concern that somehow doesn’t quite connect to the swirl of events in the world at large. The arc of the story is essentially him bridging the gap, though not without uneasy consequence.

In many ways, “Vis-a-Vis” captures one of the most difficult tensions brought to the surface during the pandemic. For many, it was difficult to conceive of the public health threat because its immediate effects seemed to exist far from our lived realities. This mental distancing perhaps grew even wider once self-isolation and social distancing became official policies in many countries, exacerbated by a society that was already increasingly isolated even before the pandemic started. But as a seemingly distant phenomenon becomes more immediate, and our party host comes to learn, the world is very much interconnected — a connection, and perhaps responsibility, that is more palpable and intimate than we realize.

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