Variations on Charlotte’s Afternoon (2014) – By Samantha Paradise

Listen up, Hollywood executives. We have found more proof that women make fantastic directors.  In Variations on Charlotte’s Afternoon, director Christina Ruloff draws her audience deep into a pit of “What if’s.” Although the plot is simple, Ruloff handles heavy topics such as fate and luck with poise while sustaining an engaging story for over twenty minutes. Viewers are no doubt in capable hands when it comes to Ruloff’s skilled storytelling and crafty cinematography.

Charlotte (Anastasia Drew) is in a race against time to save her younger brother, Jamie from fatally harming himself. The movie opens with a frazzled Charlotte dashing to her flat and mumbling wishes that her brother would respond to her phone call. By the time Charlotte reaches home, Jamie is unresponsive to knocks on the door. Charlotte searches for aid from neighbors, but finds them to be unhelpful. The sequence ends with an elderly neighbor, Mr. Baker, advising Charlotte “Some things in life are out of your hands. No matter what you do.” This completes variation number one of the film. Charlotte transitions us into a different variation with the thought, “If I had been different, could I have saved my brother?”

We are now transported to an alternate scenario in which Charlotte is bolder about handling her quandary with Jamie. Rather than wasting time on inept neighbors, she searches for Kemal, the town’s resident troublemaker. With some coaxing, Charlotte convinces Kemal to break into the flat with her. However, Jamie has already succeeded in his self-destruct mission. Kemal comforts her with, “Sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not. Life is random.”

Variation three offers a much loftier conclusion. Kemal and Charlotte complete the rescue mission. As Jamie is recovering, Kemal reminds Charlotte that this was just a game of luck and that Jamie “hasn’t learned anything.” Although they have saved Jamie, he will need to change in order to alter a dismal fate in the future.

Although Variations on Charlotte’s Afternoon is a cleverly crafted film, a few plot holes trip up the otherwise flawless performance.  There is no mention of parents, relatives and the police are an afterthought despite a desperate situation. Another troubling trend is how cold hearted the characters are when it comes to this crisis situation. Although Kemal helps Charlotte, he approaches the task with contempt. Ruloff’s message in regard to an overwhelming majority of cynics in Charlotte’s world remains unclear.

Directing a young cast with intense themes is a feat that only a trained director can accomplish. Christina Ruloff has proven that she is up to the challenge in Variations on Charlotte’s Afternoon. Armed with talented actors, sharp editing and an astute eye, this is a film viewers can expect to be entertained by.