‘The Most Beautiful Man In The World’ is a BAFTA nominated short film directed and written by Alicia Duffy in 2002. The film’s focus is the theme of youth, in particular the complexity of children’s needs, feelings and experiences, while the story itself centres on the neglect of a young girl, and her need to be free and stimulated. This need is then fulfilled when she escapes her house and is at one with nature, where she encounters a man whose identity as the girl’s father is unknown.
The film invites a variety of interpretations according to the different ideologies of audience members and the complex issues raised. The issue of neglect is prominent throughout the short, with the TV being shown as the only source of stimulation in the girl’s life and the absence of her mother and lack of care received noticeable. A number of different views and ideologies surround this issue with one of the main, dominant views being that a mother should be caring for her young child instead of leaving them to technology. The issue of neglect and child welfare is exposed throughout the opening scene where the TV is seen as the central force in the girl’s life and the one and only form of contact and interaction she has. This symbolisation of the TV highlights the girl’s lack of communication and care and raises the binary opposition of nature vs. nurture.
The variety of different camera shots used and the drab mise-en-scene of the scene also adds to the girl’s lack of stimulation while informing us of the family’s financial hardship. The use of camera and mise-en-scene come together in the use of a wide shot of the girl lying on the floor of an old-fashioned, run-down living room, where she is alone apart from her dog and the sound of her mother’s voice. This shot presents a representation of the girl as being isolated, lonely, fragile and trapped in her home with the bright light from the world outside streaming into the drab room from behind the dirty net curtains. This contrast in lighting showcases the juxtaposition between the entrapment the girl feels inside her home and the freedom she feels when left to roam outside. The theme of entrapment vs. freedom is also shown through the strong use of close-ups and extreme close-ups in the interior scenes compared to the wide shots used when the young girl is out in the field.
In addition to this, the technical element of sound is also used to portray the issue of neglect, as at the beginning of the film the diegetic sound of a television can be heard displaying violent sounds such as guns and arguing, while the camera is focused on the young girl with the light from the television illuminating her face. The sound from the television sounds like a cartoon although it could easily be a violent film or television programme. These diegetic sounds leave the audience wondering why this young girl is possibly watching this and raises the concern that there should be someone there to stop her from doing so. She is also wearing dirty clothing, again raising the idea that she is not being looked after correctly.
Furthermore, the issue of neglect and child welfare is also presented through the use of the girl’s mother being absent yet present throughout the film; this is achieved by never showing the mother however hearing her voice while she is on the phone and discussing money with a companion. While she is on the phone we can tell that this character is young due to the soft, depressed tone of her voice and her monosyllabic, short sentences making her sound weak, vulnerable and stressed. This theme of money and financial strain, along with the idea of a young, single mother, achieves a sense of realism within the film while helping to develop this character and make audience members sympathetic towards her. One ideology that audience members may have to this woman’s financial problems is the socialist ideology that as a young, single parent she should be supported by the state. At this point it is also worth noticing how no government ran authorities are being represented within the text. For example, if the child was seriously being neglected would social services not be attempting to help them and the family in anyway? The reason why social services may not be represented is due to the fact that in today’s society local councils have received a great deal of criticism in failing to spot child neglect cases, sometimes even resulting in the death of the child.
The fact that the mother is the only parent seen and heard in the house could go some way to explain why the child is suffering from some form of neglect and could also help us to understand why the family are suffering economically. This then raises the question as to where the girl’s father is and brings up the ideology that the father, whether in a relationship with the mother or not should be there to support his child and her mother both emotionally and financially. However although the girl’s mother isn’t particularly present and her father is obviously absent from her life she does have some sort of guardian, with the dog constantly looking over her and being by her side, both inside and outside the house.
Once the girl steps outside her prison-like home her disposition changes, relishing in her new found freedom, walking with her arms spread open and invigorating her senses by brushing along the plants. This scene relies heavily on the use of diegetic sound with the sound of insects, water and plants rustling in the wind being extremely exaggerated and combining together to stimulate the girl. This combination of sounds contrasts with the sound in the interior scenes where the only sound is coming from the television; this shows how much more of a stimulating environment it is for the girl. The editing also helps to add to the excitement of the scene by using jump cuts to give a sense of the exhilaration the girl is experiencing.
Shortly after the girl begins to explore, the dog runs off and she goes to find him. It’s at this point in the film where the girl finds the man stroking her dog, with the audience not knowing who he is or where he has come from. This allows the audience to interpret who he is in and what he’s about to do in whichever way they feel necessary, with the main assumption being that he is about to harm the girl in some way. This was Alicia Duffy’s rationale when making the film to help keep the plot and the characters ambiguous, also achieved by the lack of dialogue within the text. However, if we delve deeper into the language of the film we begin to realise that this man isn’t a threat to the girl. First of all the man is stroking the dog and the dog isn’t retaliating or being protective towards the child, this suggests that the dog knows the man and knows he is of no harm to the girl. The man also gently picks a bug off the child showing an intimacy between the two, this intimacy shown through the extreme-close up of his hand picking the bug from the girl’s shoulder. The man then smiles at the child and she smiles back, this smile hints towards the suggestion that there may be a relationship between the two characters as it is the first kind of human connection we see the girl have. The young mum is then seen standing at the door of the house watching over her child, she appears calm and composed indicating that she knows the man and that he is of no harm to her daughter. This again backs up the idea that he is the girl’s father.
Once the girl is back inside her house she is once again trapped watching the TV with no stimulation or contact from anyone. The editorial pace also slows down with the shots lasting longer and the lighting becoming once again darker.
Throughout the film the main representational focus is on age; this can be looked at from two perspectives with both the young girl’s boredom and need for stimulation and the young, single mothers struggling, both emotionally and financially, being represented. The girl’s mother’s age is being represented through the narrative storyline of the mother being a young, single parent who is struggling with money worries and who is also finding it difficult to care for her child and give her what she needs; this is a fairly stereotypical representation of the mother as society often criticises and has strong views about young, single mothers not being able to care for their children correctly. Class and status also plays a role in the representation of the mother as we can tell from the run-down mise-en-scene of the house and narrative of the story that she is from a lower class family.
One of the key themes throughout the film is that of Freedom vs. Imprisonment; this theme relates not only to the child and how she is trapped inside her house but also relates to the mother being trapped with the child while the father is free and allowed to do what he wants. This is a representation of gender as women are usually the ones to care for children when partners split while men are able to live their own lives; this is shown again through the close-up shots and dark, depressing lighting used in the interior scenes compared to the wide shots and bright, airy lighting used in the exterior scenes where both the mother and father feature respectively. The costume of who we believe to be the girl’s father also represents his freedom as we see him shirtless, the connotations of this being that the man is free and liberated.
Overall this short brings many ideologies to the foreground and raises many questions about the splitting of parents and how this affects children.