After watching a lot of short films, you find that many live-action ones tend to fall into one of two camps; they either offer a cute little sketch with a clever twist, or they examine some minutiae of life as part of a larger theme. The first type tend to be simple enough, but the second, where ‘big ideas’ are touched upon, often end up messy, unfocused and unsatisfying, as the filmmaker’s ambition collides with the inherent story and character limitations of the short-film format.
Cloud Watcher is an example of the second of these categories, as we follow a man called Arthur, who reluctantly, but obediently, carries out a loathsome day-job, and then performs a similar downtrodden part in his spare time as a ‘military historical enthusiast’. In both his job and his hobby Arthur carries a heavy existential burden, struggling to stand up and forge his own path for himself, lacking the confidence, resolve or just the vision, to take action to try and make his life better. Instead he lives passively, his life dictated by the rules of others.
These are some pretty deep and broad philosophical ideas, but Cloud Watcher doesn’t try to over reach with its narrative, and retains a lightness thanks to its skilful use of the slightly absurd historical battle reenactment scenes, avoiding the more cliché ‘mournful stare in a bathroom mirror scene’ that we often get with films of this type. The director also avoids wallowing with the character and his own existential angst by introducing a love interest. Admittedly she is a rather familiar trope, being a kooky, carefree, easy going, pretty girl who seems to only exist to show our protagonist that there is a brighter life to be lived. But this character is used forgivingly and never outstays her welcome, giving the audience a helping hand in navigating the message of the film.
Taking on the existential themes of self-determination is ambitious for a 12 minute film, but by keeping the focus on a narrow area of this theme, namely the moment where the decision is made to start taking more control of one’s life, they avoid the usual pitfalls. With solid acting all round, and the interesting juxtaposition between the day-job and the battle reenactment hobby, Cloud Watcher delivers a neat look at a messy slice of life.