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There's a saying in the autism field: "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." Put another way; every individual with autism is unique, and no two people will experience the condition in the same way.
Meet Jessie: a troubled young woman with Asperger Syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder. In Corduroy, we follow her journey from being something of a lost soul to someone with, possibly, a brighter future.
In the first part of the film, we witness Jessie putting herself in a dangerous situation, which results in an abrupt and startling sequence that creates just enough impact without being gratuitously overblown. We realise that this is a person who is badly in need of help.
Following this, in a hospital scene, we are shown Jessie's surroundings in brief glimpses, which provides a very effective way of sharing with us her disorientated state; the flickering light; the rhythmic clicking of an elderly visitor's knitting needles; a picture and a clock on the wall; these also illustrate something Jessie mentions in a later scene about the 'details', she observes, which is a common obsession for someone with Asperger's.
In this thoughtful and sensitive short film, writer and director Hugh O'Conor has created an intriguing landscape of audio and visual effects, expressing very adeptly, an idea of how someone with autism might experience the world around them. One very artful use of this method occurs in a scene where Jessie is sat at the dinner table. Taking in Jessie's perspective, we see just how unusual each object on the table appears to her, as she focuses on the items one by one. I feel that the employment of these special filming techniques gives us a valuable insight into some of the possible symptoms of autism, and probably does so more efficiently than reams of expounding dialogue ever could in the same amount of time.
Corduroy presents an unassumingly original angle, and, despite the film's length, does very well to showcase sympathetic characters and the central idea of the script in its ten minutes.
The main focus of the film is the concept that people with autism can benefit greatly from taking part in certain activities - in this case, surfing. O'Conor was inspired to make Corduroy after hearing about an organisation in Ireland called Surf2Heal which teaches children with autism how to surf.
In the film, Jessie is encouraged to try this therapy by Mahon; a carer from the autism centre - a delightfully warm portrayal by Domhnall Gleeson. His attempts to create a rapport with Jessie offer a touching humanity, which is welcome in a film dealing with quite a serious issue. There's a lovely, comic moment after the two have changed into their wetsuits which adds a gentle dash of humour, and shows, at least, that it's not only Jessie who is in need of a bit of guidance!
Another notable scene has the two sitting on the beach looking out to sea, as Mahon attempts to draw conversation from Jessie, and in which we also discover the relevance of the film's title - a small hint: it's a surfing term!
The very talented Caoilfhionn Dunne does an impressive job of playing Jessie, especially nailing the character's social awkwardness when interacting with others, which is a typical behavioural trait of some autistic people. Her understated and believable performance readily creates empathy, and this, in my opinion, does much to sustain our emotional investment in the story.
Corduroy is a rewarding film which leaves you with a sense of hope and optimism for its principal character. As mentioned, the acting, especially from Dunne, is completely compelling and honest - never veering into cliché or caricature. O'Conor has crafted the film with both intelligence and heart, giving us the confidence that he has researched the subject matter well. Indeed, Corduroy has been favourably received by Aspire which is the Asperger Syndrome Association of Ireland. The visual aspects, which are important to the film's narrative structure, are aesthetically appealing, too. O'Conor displays a real eye for captivating imagery, which should come as no surprise to those of us who are familiar with his still photography. It would be a joy to see his directing talents utilised again in future projects, if this is the standard of work we can look forward to.
Corduroy won a 'Francie' award for Best Short Fiction/Experimental at Clones Film Festival 2010.
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