No Man’s Land (2010) – By Cary Conley

Wounded veteran and war hero Luke Benson has just returned from Europe at the end of WWI. While one would expect a warm return, instead relations are strained between Luke, his father Bernhard, and his stepmother Alice. It takes only the time to pour a glass of Scotch before Bernhard is already talking about Luke returning to work. It is only after this that Bernhard even notices Luke’s horribly burnt hand. Bernhard attempts to express his appreciation for his son’s service and sacrifice, but the tension is so thick that the platitudes seem empty and meaningless. It is obvious there is a rift between the three. Even Alice can hardly speak when she enters the room and sees Luke again after many months away. Whatever has happened between these three individuals is bad enough that not even months at war can alleviate the deep negative feelings one has for the other. Will these three be able to work their problems out or will Luke’s arrival finally tear the family apart?

Writer/director Daniel Hahn has crafted a powerful, 15-minute drama. The film has a gothic undertone as it takes place in the shadowy halls of a huge old house. It is a quiet film with the characters wandering the halls and even the attic. Add the sinister character of the butler who obviously knows more than he lets on and you have a classic gothic setting. Along with the brown and yellow color palette and darkened rooms, the original score by Robert Eletto only serves to increase the tension and atmosphere of the film. It is a quietly subtle score which is exactly what gives it such power.

The title No Man’s Land here has multiple meanings. Not only does it refer to the strip of land between opposing forces during WWI, but in many ways it also refers to Luke’s childhood home, which was a No Man’s Land in his youth and forced him to join the war to escape; unfortunately for him, he arrives home only to realize it is still a No Man’s Land for him. The same can be said of Alice as she navigates the complicated relationship she has with both her husband and her stepson, trapped between two opposing forces, much like Luke was when he sustained his injuries. Even Luke’s father finds his loyalty to both his wife and son challenged. Much like war, no one will escape this triangle without wounds, physical, emotional, or otherwise.

No Man’s Land is a superb character drama that examines the fallout of a broken relationship between three individuals who cannot get along yet are inextricably connected to each other, either by blood or by marriage. If you would like to view this short film, go to http://vimeo.com/17194159.