Based on the true story of artist Cristian Fredrick, The Masterpiece takes us from the depths of despair to the triumph of the will. Here is our review of writer/director Paul Myzia’s award-winning short film.
As The Masterpiece opens we are led to believe we are going to be watching a completely different film than we actually are. A low-key start with narration sees our protagonist sitting emotionless on the bed as moments of his life, and his increasingly serious illness, flicker in and out of his mind. We assume this is going to be another one of those “true-life stories” you see on TV, full of melodrama and exaggeration. It takes one minute for us to completely change our mind; a lit match becomes the start, shining a light on the words ‘terminal ill’ and much like the messages in Mission Impossible, Cristian Fredericks begins to self-destruct within 5 seconds.
I really can’t praise the initial montage highly enough, and the opening tune on the soundtrack is a banger. It begins with a dramatic thumping beat part garage, part grime, that slowly builds in tension; the scenes are then cut in time to the music, the ripping of wallpaper, the destruction of property, the violent outbursts, the darkly-lit nightclub, the drunken dance, come sway. These scenes are completely intoxicating, they pull you into the story straight away, and you feel part of our subject’s life and involved in his behaviour. We begin to feel his despair and his desperation but then, as we become gripped and drawn in, we are spat right back out far too early.
It’s a skilfully edited piece of filmmaking and at its best, reminiscent of David Fincher, the nightclub scene in Del Toro’s Blade 2, and even the John Wick movies, but these scenes only last for 90 seconds, and yet they are by far the most memorable part of the film. My major criticism of this cracking little short is that the style on show, using the track in the beginning, does not go on for nearly long enough. It feels like a completely different film and it is one that I would have loved to have spent more time watching.
As things calm down we are in more straightforward if somewhat surrealist territory as Fredrick, sitting in a bath and bathed in red light, tries to end his life. As our leads often do in these types of stories, he has an epiphany and instead of following his original path of self-destruction, decides to change course, and by embracing his terminal illness diagnosis he begins to flourish.
In a couple of beautifully shot and stylistic scenes, including that of an easel in the middle of the room is engulfed in the spotlight, and a long shot in the centre of a new and empty house with his partner, Fredrick picks up his paints and begins to work on his masterpiece. Like a marriage of different painting styles, director Paul Myzia creates scenes that are reminiscent of masters such as Pollock, Van Gogh, Turner, Monet, by using jump cuts, different lighting techniques, darkness, and colour to differentiate each moment. We see the concentration in the face of our artist as he works but it is the music that carries the short to new heights, leaving each viewer invigorated.
Despite my wish that the opening went on for longer, The Masterpiece remains a hugely uplifting and exhilarating experience. It tells a story using images, sounds, and lights that once finished will make you want to punch the air. Myzia is certainly one of the biggest directorial talents out there and I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.