By Pietro Traversa | Drama
A man pulls a gun at a convenience store. But the cashier wants to have his say...

A thief tries to rob a dusty, cluttered convenience store, charging into the store with a gun and threatening the unsuspecting cashier with violence if he doesn’t hand over the money.

But with curiously unflappable cashier handles the situation with aplomb, managing to subdue with the interloper with a dense, dazzling display… of ancient Greek philosophy.

Written and directed by Pietro Traversa, this witty comedy of ideas is a duel of verbal and intellectual prowess, in which a store cashier uses words — and the ideas behind them — to outwit his increasingly confused opponent.

The story has a narrow scope, confined to one time and place, and is essentially one conversation. The film’s design, too, is similarly pared down, with simple but thoughtful camera set-ups and warm colors and lighting dictated by the exuberantly cramped, cluttered convenience store with a very odd name.

But the film more than makes up for the simplicity of its visuals with a dazzling, dizzying richness, expressed through a playful torrent of dialogue and pitch-perfect performances. The writing is stuffed with ideas, most of which have the philosophy of Plato as their foundation. The Platonic realm known as the “hyperuranion” is a place where the perfect ideas of real things are collected together. Plato postulated that everything we experience in our realities is merely an echo of the perfection that exists in the hyperuranion.

Heady stuff to build a plot around, but the film manages to generate a marvelous bit of storytelling around it. Viewers don’t actually need to understand the subtleties of Greek philosophy to enjoy how the cashier essentially talks his way out of a hold-up, managing to both engage and frustrate the robber in a verbal offense of quicksilver cleverness.

Actors Antonio Banno and Vito Ubaldini handle the tumult of words with aplomb, both developing a sharp rhythm and back-and-forth that makes for great comic timing. When the cerebral pas-de-deux peaks in an eruption of epic annoyance and irritation, it’s both a triumph for the cashier, and for the enduring legacy of ancient Greek philosophy.

“Hyperuranios” may have the scale of a comedy sketch, but its excellent writing and full arc elevate it beyond schtick and punchline. Viewers can enjoy the duel between cashier and robber as comedy, as well-crafted and well-executed as it is. Or they can dig deeper to contemplate how this realm of perfection — so rarely achieved, yet always haunting us — continues to haunt us in an age of Instagram filters and social media FOMO. (Is Instagram the ultimate hypermarket of ideas?)

Either way, the short is a clever and intellectually ambitious high-wire act that makes for an excellent amuse-bouche to deeper contemplation — or simply enjoyed on its own as a combative dance of quick and nimble wit.

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