The Mubi Cinematheque: The Runaway (2013)
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Short fiction in film is such a completely different beast than the norm of a feature. In such a confined space, the filmmakers need to be sure the story is tightly wound and clear (unless in full abstract symbolism mode). Time cannot be wasted through exposition or even much character development.
The Runaway, or La Fugue as it’s commonly referred to, part of Mubi’s connection to the Berlinale Film Festival, manages to thrust the viewer into its world with its characters in the middle of a crisis that has been building for some time without being confusing. It’s the opposite. The relationship between a social worker and his client feels fully formed, like they’ve settled into their respective roles long before. As frustrated as the social worker gets, and his client as well, he doesn’t seem all that shocked when she sets off becoming a fugitive instead of sticking around for her jail sentence.
At only the length of a standard sitcom episode, director Jean-Bernard Marlin and company manage to tell a complete story despite the limitations. A short film requires discipline in order to succeed. It’s almost journalistic in its concision and it is kept simple, narratively speaking. A girl with a history of legal problems seems to have gotten things turned around, but due to a taciturn attitude, she doesn’t do herself any favours in the eyes of the prosecution. She is sentenced to a year in jail, she runs, and the social worker goes on the hunt. That’s the plot in a nutshell. There is no waste, but at the same time it’s very subtle in its exploration of themes.
How many chances are too many? While it seems excessive that she has avoided jail time, her circumstances in life do not seem to have been pleasant or conducive to the straight-and-narrow. Is it fair when she seems to have finally come out the other end with proper employment that she should receive a sentence like she does, which effectively ends her employment status? It’s entirely possible that this sentence will not deter her from that lifestyle, which should be the goal of the legal system, but instead make it seem like she has fewer options. Like it or not, jail time creates a stigma and her future may be spelled out for her and she knows it. So she runs.
This is all underneath the surface. It’s a necessarily sparse story shot with fairly loose camera mechanics to give it a sense of current emergency. It follows the same conventions of a really good short story. It’s boiled down to the bare necessities, cutting out fat and detail. This kind of filmmaking is not often in the mainstream, likely because it’d be difficult to market given its length, but it has a place and is certainly worthy of a look. It’s not groundbreaking storytelling, but it is easy to relate to and sadly familiar of those who fall through the cracks.