In religious terms, “era apocrypha” refers to a series of dubious statements whose authenticity is brought into question. It is a reference to the lack of understanding of biblical canonicity. In Greek, the word “apocryphal” is applied to writings that were only allowed to be read by those initiated because they were believed to carry wisdom that was too profound for the masses.
You need to think about that before you see Brendan Sweeny’s short film debut Era Apocrypha which premièred at the Venice Film Festival last week, in the Short Film competition. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the festival myself, but Sweeny and I worked together during TIFF last year, and kept in touch since then. He showed me his film and we chatted about what sort of themes were conveyed through it.
Told from different perspectives, the film is driven by biting conversation devoid of niceties. The action spans across several generations living in the same house, so in this sense it is divided into a series of short vignettes. There is something ominous about the film’s characters, who all seem to be driven by reprehensible thoughts and words. The way Sweeny represents humans in Era Apocrypha is reminiscent of the way Michael Haneke does: they are despicable and petty.
The characters are all extremely mean and foul-mouthed, and I got the impression that something compelled them to behave this way; maybe it was the house itself, or maybe it’s just because people are nasty by nature. Most of the characters are female (Molly Tarlov, Erica Dasher, Kelsey Siepser, Zena Grey, and Presley Christine star in this short) and there might be some social commentary about the way women sometimes treat each other.
“One of the central themes of the film is the idea of birth, successive generations, so that partially informed my choice to have more female characters,” Sweeny told TCP. “As for any commentary on women/the female sensibility, that’s for you, the viewer, to determine.”
The last vignette of Era Apocrypha, in which Van Gogh’s lover is repeatedly referred to as a “whore,” seems to move that reflection forward.
The house could also be regarded as symbolic, because it reflects a sense of entrapment. There are some weird things happening and they’re never given an explanation – they just are. The film is like a feverish nightmare; once you try to put it into words it doesn’t make much sense.
The pleasure of watching Era Apocrypha comes from the fact that it is completely open to interpretation. It is dark, and at times eerily creepy, and there is no well-defined plot to speak of.
“No particular film inspired EA per se,” Sweeny said. “I wrote a feature script that is the same ‘tone’ as EA so that would be the closest thing. More importantly, I wanted this film to stand in direct contrast with most of the other short films you see…where the plot can be summed up in a single sentence and where everyone who sees it is seeing the same film. I wanted to play with the narrative so that it is an individual experience for each viewer, where they have to connect the dots themselves which, I hope, will be far more rewarding and interesting.” Sweeny explained when I asked him about the structure of his film. It took him a couple of months to finish the script and about three days to shoot.
It is a promising debut from a young director, and while it will definitely boggle and confuse some, others will recognize the film’s originality and all the effort that went into writing and directing something that is complex, and at times absurd and philosophical. It is a work of intuition, as opposed to expectation.
By Radina Papukchieva