Rural New Zealand, winter 1946. An isolated young wife awaits the return of her husband from World War II. Her fears about his demise come to vivid life in her imagination, but his sudden return only brings new fears.
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1946. It is winter in New Zealand, a country recovering from the Second World War. As the harsh winter wind growls outside, Beth entertains Maisy in the modest farmhouse she owns with her absent husband Jonathan. Several months on from VJ Day most New Zealand soldiers have returned home from the Pacific Theatre; but not Jonathan. Despite Maisy's best attempts to raise Beth's spirits, Beth's fears are not easily allayed. After Maisy departs, Beth experiences one of her frequent and menacing visions of Jonathan at the hands of the "enemy": a Japanese soldier evoked by wartime propaganda and a near constant presence in Beth's mind since the War began. As time passes, Beth barely manages to survive the repeated visions that plague her mind on a daily basis. Shaken to the point of despair, Beth immerses herself in the reassuring routine of daily chores, seeking solace in the simple acts of chopping firewood or taking tea. However, after one especially horrifying vision, which plunges Beth ... Written by
Embers is a finely-crafted short that sensitively deals with issues in the immediate post-WWII era, issues that resonate in our present troubled times. Beth waits patiently for her husband to return from fighting the Japanese, all the while fighting her own battle with the nightmares that come to her, sparked by tales of Japanese torture and barbarity during the conflict. The film perfectly evokes the period through the use of library footage and 1940s music in the opening. Beth's state of mind is also brilliantly evoked in the stark setting of her humble, snow-flecked cottage, the exterior hues of chilling blue contrasting with the warm orange glows cast by the fireplace on the interiors. Beth's fragile state of mind could clearly be tipped one way or the other. And tipped it is, in the most dramatic and unexpected of ways in the film's climax.
Few shorts manage such attention to period detail as Embers. Fewer still demand such an emotional journey of their protagonist. The cinematography, editing and performances are all spot on. Significantly, well before Clint Eastwood was to be lauded for his "ground-breaking" rendering of Allied cruelty and Japanese humanism in Letters from Iwo Jima, Embers shows that for the individuals involved, war can be a matter of personal tragedy and defeat regardless of outcomes on a national level. What does it mean to win a war but lose a husband, a son, a lover? This small film asks big questions and is a triumph on every level.
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