surreal short film 'the silent man' will leave you disturbed

We talk thrills, fantasy, and the secret life of dolls with filmmaker Charlotte Colbert and actress Sophie Kennedy-Clark.

by Tish Weinstock
23 May 2016, 6:29pm

Inspired by a life-size doll that was created for 19th century artist Oska Kokoschka -- one modeled in the image of the woman he once loved -- photographer and filmmaker Charlotte Colbert has created one of the most surreal shorts we've ever seen.

Based loosely on the relationship between Kokoschka and his beloved doll (although as legend had it, with her raven hair, thin eyebrows and skin made entirely of feathers, she looked nothing like the woman she was made after) The Silent Man follows a girl -- played by Sophie Kennedy-Clark -- as she looks to re-capture the magic of a doomed relationship, by ordering a life-size doll in her ex-lover's exact image.

Fresh from a hugely successful although deeply disturbing screening at Gazelli Art House, we talked to Colbert and Kennedy-Clark about thrills, fantasy, and the secret life of dolls.

What's the story behind The Silent Man? What inspired it?
Charlotte Colbert: I randomly saw this old black and white photograph of the most grotesque looking female doll. It was covered in feathers, with jet black hair stuck at the top, arched drawn eyebrows, breasts and, according to legend, a functional vagina. The doll belonged to a broken-hearted 19th century painter called Oska Kokoschka who, after being dumped by his lover, femme fatale Alma Mahler, commissioned a life size replica doll of her. From that, my fascination with dolls and our relationships to them -- relationships that are obviously only ever a relationship to oneself -- grew.

What was it like working together?
CC: When I was writing it I knew the ideal cast I wanted: Sophie, Simon [Amstell], and Cillian [Murphy], in his strange cameo. Sophie is amazing. Not only does she have the onscreen presence of a young Catherine Deneuve, but she is also a kamikaze actress. She takes risks. Fights. Gets her hands dirty.

Sophie Kennedy-Clark: Charlotte called me up and gave me a breakdown of the plot and her inspiration before sending me the script. In truth I knew I wanted to do it before having read anything. Charlotte's wit, intelligence, style and natural draw to the weird and wonderful made it a totally irresistible offer.

What kind of reaction are you hoping to elicit from your audience?
CC: Hopefully compassion, laughter, a little vignette into a strange world.

SKC: It's funny: when I'm in a scene, I'm unaware of the crew around me never mind the prospect of an audience. Having since watched it, Charlotte and her post production team have done a phenomenal job creating suspense, humor, thrill, fantasy and the want for more!

Sophie could you say a bit about your character?
SKC: I play a girl with a plan. Behind closed doors she is grappling to regain control of a relationship that no longer exists… or maybe never was. In the throes of her attempted salvage she opens the door to reality and dilutes the fantasy.

What personal experiences did you draw on in order to flesh out your character?
SKC: We are all capable of going to the extreme when acting out of sheer desperation to rescue a relationship. In this case I just applied that feeling to the story at hand in a very intense way. Bizarrely enough, when we were shooting, in my mind the character was attempting to gain control over or reignite a relationship that she is no longer in. However when I watched the finished piece, my perspective changed. I saw another angle. Perhaps there had never been a relationship and this was a fan girl, obsessed with Cillian Murphy to such an unhealthy degree that watching him on screen was no longer enough. I've born witness to the extent fans go to with friends of mine of who are in successful TV shows. People get so lost in a fantasy with characters in films and TV shows that they start to formulate imaginary relationships behind closed doors.

What was your greatest challenge making it?
CC: Time. We only had a few days to shoot because of budget and because all shots were so staged, specifically lit and that generally on a shoot, everything that can go wrong goes wrong, it was a juggle not compromising too much on what we wanted to do and still getting the coverage.

SKC: It was very, very hot in London the week we shot -- one of those mid summer heatwaves that you live for all year until your work conceals you in a small unairconditioned sweat box! That aside, for me it was a total dream. The crew was fantastic and Charlotte's energy and passion made it the kind of set that is nothing but a dream to be on. I should also mention that Charlotte was seven months pregnant and her energy was electric, so in comparison, we all had it easy! Rather unusually some keys players of the crew were female. Yourself, the DOP, producers, editors -- did you feel this was an integral part of the making of the film? Was it something you sought out?

CC: The only crew member I knew I wanted a woman for was the DP because there is an intimate scene in the film and I am more interested in the way women view their own bodies rather than as men view women's bodies. With a man, a woman can always hide behind her "otherness" and vice versa but with a woman it's perhaps easier to achieve a sense of irreverence, or simply detachment.

CC: What was the most awkward moment during filming?
SKC: We had to get a shot during the sex scene where the doll's penis goes flying off into a wall. This involved the masterminds of the production finding a pump that had the force to get the distance we needed to get the penis to fly a few feet. So I found myself straddling the doll with a sewage pump and a penis between my thighs. I'm pretty sure this is fairly high up there on my most awkward moments.

CC: What are your thoughts on sex dolls?
SKC: I think it's a sad state of affairs that people are starting to find greater connections with inanimate objects than other humans. But, hey, whatever turns you on.

CC: Should they have the right to vote?
SKC: Yes; Barbie for president #feelthebarb.


Text Tish Weinstock

charlotte colbert
sophie kennedy-clark
the silent man