published: March 2015

Three Cigs, A film by Crestone’s Liam Hall

by William Howell

I’ve been to film festivals which often present a small number of full-length films and a bunch of short offerings, fun and energetic and off-the-wall takes on life that play a role not unlike a lesser-known band opening for a name act, or the cartoons that used to be shown before the main feature at the local movie theater. Short films are hors d’oeuvres served before a main course.

One foreseeable trouble with Three Cigs is that cinema goers may remember this short piece longer and better than whatever full-length feature might follow, with each of its eight minutes building on its predecessor, so what unfolds goes from interesting to engaging to striking to riveting to earth-shaking.

It is as fine as any short story: clean, well bounded, simple in its own way, a demonstration of artistic chance-taking and restraint, shot and scripted with alive prudence that achieves something deceptively small and deceivingly large. The action is clear yet progresses exponentially, with nothing left out, nothing extraneous, and everything necessary to carry the theme of power shifting from one teen male to another.

In just a few clear-cut scenes, this “little” film turns out to be a canvas for revolution, which historically reverberates with subtitles allowing English-speakers to look in on an afternoon in a park in Prague. The action forms innocently enough around three cigarettes and a lighter, with the context of their being smoked defining the character of two youths, one a bit stocky and handsomely confident, while the other seems younger, pale and frailer with glasses, perhaps a budding intellectual. The casting is perfect.

From the first moment, the sound of a metal lighter being flicked open as we watch its owner light a fallen leaf, the action quietly builds to its life-and-death climax, which but hints at the wheel of denouement.

The film is a success before its last terrific touch, already a piece of cinema worthy of the genre, hitting the mark that propels people go to theaters and watch images on a blank screen. Yes, it is already a piece of art before the poetic flick of a right hand that propels the controlling image into the trash.

Three Cigs is the effort of three American film majors on a semester at Europe’s premiere film school. Their talents gelled and together they made magic with this noir short that transcends its length and sub-genre. Their efforts deserve the attentions of many a film festival, for here is a rare treat, a deft piece of film making that delivers something rare.