Monday 27 January 2020

An Impossible Poison

Updated 11th October 2021

I am delighted to celebrate my first short film, An Impossible Poison, which received its premiere at Lettrétage in Berlin on 16th November 2017 as part of an event called Breaking Ground Berlin: A New British Con_Text.  An Impossible Poison received its London premier at the Royal Albert Hall on 7th March 2018 as part of the That's What She Said night (details here). It has been very well reviewed, screened widely and been selected for eight international film festivals so far. 

"all the careful crafting of an art film, from its velvety decor to its heightened gothic colour is this attention to styling that brings the element of luxury...every frame is a portrait."
Girls on Film, review and interview 

"awe-inspiring...intriguing, chilling, compelling"
"[a] brilliant horror short"
Emerald Street, article on women in film

An Impossible Poison is available to view for free. Turn the sound up and go to full screen. You can also watch my film series Aurora, starring Alessia Patregnani, as well as little fun vlogs and video blips. 

So far, An Impossible Poison has made the Official Selection of the Five Continents International Film Festival, the International Women’s Film Festival, the New York Lift-Off Festival, the Film and Screenplay Contest 2018, the Fake Flesh Film Festival, the Night of the Short Film Festival in Antwerp, Shorts on Tap in association with Time Out in November 2019  and the Nosferatu Film Festival 2021. All the laurels for these are below. It is also a semi-finalist in the 2017 STIFF San Maurino Torinese film festival. 

The London X4 Seasonal Short Film Festival reviewed it as:
"eerie, atmospheric [and] well directed"

and Club des Femmes, the feminist film collective, have reviewed it as:

 "intriguing and very atmospheric, beautifully shot and edited."

In a perceptive and very flattering review and interview, which can be read in full here, Girls on Film describe An Impossible Poison as having "all the careful crafting of an art film, from its velvety decor to its heightened gothic colour palette...this attention to styling brings the element of luxury...crossing over into installation-worthy territory...every frame is a portrait."

In their official selection notes, reviewed it as:
"a very intense and intimate film …all very intriguing. The first flash of emotion when [the weird stuff happens] was superb. ...The strange, creepy [other thing] which followed gave me chills. Thought provoking stuff and enjoyable to watch. Great job."
An Impossible Poison is an intense 7 minute narrative short feature which dramatises a few lines from some poems of mine, as commissioned by Speaking Volumes, who wanted me to reinterpret the idea of a writer performing her own work. The text deals with the aftermath of deceit, with ritualistic and ceremonial traditions and the continued attraction of a witchcraft tradition in the contemporary world. I'm interested in ritual behaviours, superstition, sublimation, obsession and catharsis. The atmosphere of the film is heightened and carefully designed, the look stylised, with the camera lingering on the details of cloth, jewellery, décor and on the profile and hands of the main character and her props. In the film, a woman enacts an occult ritual over a score of eerie music. It gets steadily more extreme as the woman is absorbed and exhilarated by the ritual, which offers both release from pain and the thrill of encountering the uncanny. 

I consider myself to be an arthouse auteur and don't think in terms of genres or performance style - so it's funny to me that An Impossible Poison is being interpreted as a horror film. I did the cinematography, art direction and sound design myself (as is quite common on a short auteur project) - the soundtrack is actually made up of about seven sound clips plaited together with varying speeds and levels. The wonderful thing about film is that everything you've done in your career up to that point (in my case, art direction, then a long career in TV and radio) can go into it. 

It was also shown on 25th April 2018 at Words with....Bidisha at the Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex, followed by an in-depth conversation (details here); on 16th June 2018 at APT Gallery in London as part of the Gaze symposium; at the Victoria Gallery, University of Liverpool, on Sunday 21st October 2018; and at Samsung KX in Coal Drops Yard in London on Thursday 28th November 2019 in association with Time Out (details here).

The credits are as follows:
  • Written and directed by Bidisha Mamata
  • Camera operator - Amy Cameron
  • Editing – Amy Cameron and Bidisha Mamata

Just for fun, a list of some of the films I like can be found here. Links to my film essays and reviews can be found all over the Net, although I recently wrote about Angelina Jolie's work as a director, the portrayal of Syria in documentaries and features, the new generation of millennial film-makers, the documentary Even When I Fall, Wonder Woman and women in action films, The Assassin and the 'wuxia' Chinese swordfighting genre, women in dystopic science fiction films and documentaries on rape camps in the Bosnian wars and child refugees in Lebanon and Syria.

The full text of the main poem (which I don’t use all of in the film), as well as the extra script lines, are below. The first line of the script is “deceit is my friend” and the final line is “not to suffer”.

An Impossible Poison

Deceit is my friend and it hangs over me,
An angelic nurse hovering at my bedside,
Its wings flexing open, rich and exuberant,
Its long feathers dipped in cold holy water,
Casting drops around me like a bare blanket.

Deceit is my life-partner, the only one I need,
My counterpart, my foil, my voice of reason,
My stalwart retainer who never surprises me,
Accompanying me invisibly down the aisle,
A ghost groom in a wedding video on repeat.

Deceit is the ally who remains at my shoulder
As the others drift coolly away in plain disbelief,
Politely receding while I bid them a sad farewell
Like a queen standing in her castle, nobly robed
In betrayal, the heavy cloak I can never cast off.

Deceit is my meat and drink, its claggy taste
Sits in my throat like an impossible poison
I can never fully purge as I toast the company
Who have no clue that all I can taste is lies
Swilling in my mouth like a long deep kiss.

[Extra script lines as follows:]

The offer of blood is the oldest gift
I offer it up, I offer it up

In the failure of law, rightness is restored,
That is only fair.

The slow inexorable ceremony of natural justice always goes the same way.
First, the procession. Then, the sacrifice. Then the shadow walk.

The offer made, the gods collect
And in return they grand the chance to survive.

Not to succeed,
Just to continue struggling,
Brute survival in the cold hard world.

I pay the blood tax to survive,
Not to be destroyed.

Just survive,
Not to suffer.

All images and text (c) Bidisha, 2017-2020