Streaming’s Hidden Treasures: The Widow’s Last + Short Films to Stream

Image: Reel Issues Films

Streaming has changed the way we view films. It is a change that has been welcomed by many and sniffed at by others. Like it or not, however, Netflix, Amazon and the like play a huge part in being a film-lover today. These platforms have vast amounts to offer, some of which is sorely overlooked. Streaming’s Hidden Treasures aims to pick out quality, different and lesser-known cinema from across the internet, offering a guide to a variety of entertainment with ease and affordability.

Director: Vanessa Perdriau

Starring: Charlotte Peters, Matthew Wolf, Damien Hasson, Sam Hardy

Streaming Service: Omeleto/YouTube

The latest pick in our ongoing Streaming’s Hidden Treasures series is a change of direction, being the first entry to spotlight a short film. Whilst we generally focus on the unseen gems of the cinema and TV, this time we’ve gone for something properly different and underappreciated in the form of Vanessa Perdriau’s The Widow’s Last, a short film now available to stream for free on the Omeleto YouTube channel.

Made back in 2017, The Widow’s Last tells the gruelling story of Kathryn (a terrific Charlotte Peters), a widow in 19th century Ireland struggling to keep herself and son alive during the Great Famine, which the film swiftly points out was a product of ‘English rule’. As she contends with a lack of food and the ‘fever’ that has taken a hold of her young boy Michael (Sam Hardy) and just killed a local, Kathryn becomes embroiled in some morally-treacherous business involving an Englishman (Matthew Wolf) and her neighbour Sean (Damien Hasson).

In a largely bleak yet tender film, the key moment of emotional pull comes when Kathryn finds Wolf’s Englishman wounded, having been shot from afar by an embittered Sean, determined to have revenge for the suffering he feels the English have inflicted on his country. Driven by guilt after young Michael sees her about to abandon the injured man, Kathryn takes him in and the film advances from there, taking in moral dilemmas, raw pain and a stunning landscape.

The surrounding hills, woods and waterfalls are shot to look verdant yet forbidding by DP Andy Catarisano. The natural landscape is at once gorgeous, full of flourishing life, and barren, devoid of all food and hope. It is an effective contrast that makes a wonderful backdrop for the drama, emphasising a specific time and place that is so key to the film’s themes.

In what first appears to be an unrelentingly bleak film, Perdriau manages to tease out the humanity in her characters, something that allows some warmth and optimism to seep through. For the viewer, The Widow’s Last is a tough watch, but it is so well-judged in its tone and pacing, never becoming leaden down with its own importance, that its political points and emotional ballast hit hard without ever feeling forced. What we are left with is a film that could move you to tears but that earns that right. It invests in its characters and tells its story with admirable conviction.

Perdriau also does an excellent job of telling her tale in the short format too, making it feel as if it could not be told any other way. There is little in the way of incident, with nothing rushed or lingered on for too long. The film’s aim is to hit its audience hard and with simplicity, making its point, moving you, and then leaving you to do the rest. Nothing is over-explained or stretched out for the sake of it. At the same time, Perdriau also does a great job of navigating the short film pitfall of successfully realising her fictional world in a short amount of time. The Widow’s Last is under 20 minutes long but Perdriau’s 1800s Ireland feels immediate and authentic. It is not somewhere you want to spend time, but it sure makes for a gripping film.

The Widow’s Last is a worthwhile addition to Streaming’s Hidden Treasures not just for its own merits but for drawing attention to the wide availability of award-winning short films to stream. Perdriau’s film premiered last month on Omeleto, a website and YouTube channel dedicated to bringing a curated selection of short filmmaking to the masses. Free to watch online, the films can be searched for individually or suggested as part of loose collections and categories. A similar venture is Short of the Week which, like Omeleto, has both its own website and a popular YouTube channel where you can stream short films online for absolutely free. Some of the works across the two platforms even feature big names like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, George Mackay and Maisie Williams.

Despite the fact that short film is often seen just as a stepping stone for young directors, it is very much an art form in its own right. The skill of telling a story with such brevity, whilst still demonstrating some amount of flair and complexity, is a mighty one indeed. The lack of commercial interest in short films also allows artists to take risks and create experimental, daring works in a short format. Several big-screen stories have started out as shorts, including Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash

Beyond all that, short film offers a different medium for a filmmaker, one that presents its own challenges and opportunities that differ from the usual constraints and expectations of feature films and television. Seldom will a short film suffer from a good idea stretched to far, or a smart joke diluted with overuse, as we often see in the cinema. Perhaps that is why big-name directors turn to shorts from time to time, like Pedro Almodóvar recently has with the excellent The Human Voice. Whether a short film is a testing ground for big ideas, or telling a story that can only be told with concision, it is worth taking note of the wealth of exciting filmmaking in the short form. It does of course help that a lot of it is free, too.

For more coverage of short films on Reel Time, check out our Leeds International Film Festival 2020 section.

Andrew Young