Friday, June 01, 2012

DWF ’12: Dig (short)

For David, a Holocaust survivor studying philosophy, Nietzsche is bound to be a difficult figure to approach.  Particularly vexing are the passages his study group is chewing on: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”  Maybe so, but sometimes the abyss really has it coming.  Nietzsche’s questions cease being philosophical when David confronts the old National Socialist who killed his family in Joshua Caldwell’s short film Dig (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Dances with Films.

It is 1962.  Having survived concentration camps, David is now a reasonably well liked American college student.  Yet, when he observes Heinrich Berger walking into the diner, he is shaken to the core.  The next time viewers see Berger, he is trussed up in the back seat of David’s car, headed out to the desert.  The student has brought a gun and a shovel, which he intends for Berger to use.  However, being intimately acquainted with death, Berger is more comfortable than David in its company, launching into a verbal cat-and-mouse game with the understandably emotional young man.

Aaron Himelstein is actually quite compelling as the deeply conflicted David.  Indeed, it is an impossible situation to imagine one’s self in.  Nonetheless, one cannot help wondering if the character’s agitated state is right for the story or whether a sense of resignation, recognizing the inadequacies of his planned actions yet proceeding just the same, would have better made its points about the limits of justice.  It certainly would have produced a more existential film.

Regardless, Aronofsky regular Mark Margolis is eerily effective as the stone cold evil Berger, while Himelstein viscerally conveys the grief and anguish of his victim.  Granted, the Nietzsche prologue is hardly subtle, but Dig is in no way exploitative.  Painting a dark picture of a morally problematic universe, it is a pretty ambitious short film (executive produced by CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker).  Not exactly uplifting, but quite cinematic, it screens this coming Tuesday (6/5) as part of Fusion Shorts-Group 2 at the 2012 edition of Dances with Films.