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Penalty (2016) Short Film Review

Penalty is a 2016 short film about a group of men who come to play a game of football, though at stake is much more than a simple victory.

There’s an immediate urgency to Aldo Iuliano‘s dramatic short film Penalty, one that with barely a word speaks for many, even as it does so with a harrowing voice. It is a deeply contemporary film that makes metaphor of a very real situation, one it never directly says by name but makes clear is what every frame is about. As such, this is one of the most troubling cinematic experiences in recent memory, one that puts a distressing face on a story that should have impact on us all.

In an isolated field far from civilization, resting a short distance from the sea, a group of young black men play a game of football (soccer), though none seem to be enjoying the match, aggressive and somber as they play under a looming storm. A referee has been chosen by drawing the short stick and he shifts about the game, breaking up mounting hostility until at last, one man is tackled ferociously, sent to the ground with a broken ankle. The first audible word is spoken: “Penalty” and the game ends as the referee walks to the water as we cut to a flashback before the match where we learn everything we have just seen means far more than what we thought, and the battle for a win is in a game that can never be won.

To say more would be to ruin what is a truly a devastating reveal, and even to mention the source for why it exists risks spoiling the film’s ultimate message. Therefore, it leaves me as a critic in a difficult spot since there is much to discuss about Iuliano’s terrific short. He is a prolific short filmmaker and has earned high praise as a cartoonist prior, and clearly has proven he is ready to take on a larger project, this in fact one that almost feels like it could be fleshed out even more given the chance. That’s not to say it’s not effective as it is. At just under 15 minutes, it packs a pretty solid punch, even as most of it is just men playing a game. One watches with trepidation throughout, and while its linkage to the larger theme might be ambiguous for those perhaps not looking close enough, it’s hard not to be moved and shocked by its outcome.

Penalty is a global story with the filmmakers managing to condense that narrative to a few men in a terrifying predicament. It works because it feels authentic, even as we recognize that these few men (who are not actors but actual people plucked from the story they are culled from) represent far, far more than who they are and what they do. Watching the film a few times, I was struck by the movement of the players and Iuliano’s direction, the grace and majesty of these human beings who challenged me to think much more deeply about what I was seeing. They will for you as well.

Penalty (2016) Short Film Review

Director(s): Aldo Iuliano

Actor(s): Miloud Mourad Benamara, Danish Bhutto, Ibrahim Baba

Genre: Drama, Short

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