Amalgame tells the story of Marie, who, shaken up from recent and ongoing terrorist attacks in her city, journeys home alone in a taxi, driven to intense paranoia by the recent events and terrified by her surroundings.
The news on the taxi has identified the radical terrorists as Belgian men with Islamic names, and Marie begins to feel panicked and trapped when noticing that her driver is of the same ethnicity, and potentially religion. We’re never strictly told this, but one of the film’s weapons against the audience’s expectation is the subverting of their prejudice, whether they like it or not. This is dangerous filmmaking to attempt, but Amalgame is willing to take the risks.
What evolves from Marie’s institutional, casual racism and prejudice is a conflict so simple yet so explosive that it leads to a tight, tense short film. Somewhat bravely and perhaps somewhat controversially, the film essentially spends its entire runtime presenting to us a white protagonist who is experiencing motions of fear and distress caused purely by what the news and media outlets have suggested about the race and religion of the recent attack’s perpetrators. Director Charlene Odiot plays this field pretty effectively, and I admire her dedication to remaining a safe, objective distance away from the material, for most of the time and allowing the conflict to just play out. We, as the audience, feel Marie’s panic when she gets into the car and sees her driver, but immediately check ourselves for the casual racism that we’re sharing with Marie. People may not feel this way, but undoubtedly it’s the intended attention drawn. Again, like Marie, this basis is aided by the dangerous things that the radio is, at the same time, telling us to feel. Nobody knows who did the attacks – but Odiot uses that judgement against us to create an uncomfortable feeling for both parties. Marie’s driver is pleasant, polite, and not for a second suspicious or alarming towards her. This doesn’t stop Marie’s judgement though, and none of it has any backup other than what the radio is telling her.
The film is clearly very anti-media in general, as one character even comments, but still does a mostly good job of balancing an unbiased point of view. The only time this becomes an issue is towards the ending, where I felt that personally, the message was a little too on the nose regarding Marie regretting her feelings of racism. It was a bit too “spoken out loud”, and detracted a little bit from the effectiveness of the message that was already clear. Having said this, Marie does go back and forth on whether or not she does or doesn’t feel regret, or whether or not she should.
Overall, the film was very well done and does a great job of critiquing the media and what it teaches people about the ridiculous, unfounded judgement of other human beings, and how this propaganda can make even people who feel that they are good into something they consider bad. It’s an honest look at this issue, and mostly gets it right. Odiot is brave to take on such an idea, and I look forward to seeing what else she tackles in this way. The car scene itself is filled with conflict, and it’s simple cutting back and forth between the two characters is inherently creepy – there’s an uncomfortable air of atmosphere, judgement and paranoia looming over everything, and this is truly effective in communicating what the film is trying to say.
It’s hard to speak on the film fully without saying something insensitive, but Amalgame challenges us to have these conversations, and tells us that we need to be honest with ourselves as to, often, what awful people we can be based on the news and propaganda around us, even if we’re usually not.