A Bitter Pill is a dramatic short film that depicts a mysterious mounting tension between a couple as their relationship seems to deteriorate. The great strength of the film is in the way it never allows us to completely settle in to the circumstances or make an assessment of the characters. We spend much of the film not only trying to decipher the cause of the growing distance between them, but also struggling to decide if they really have our sympathies in the first place. Only in the final moments do we get a point of context for everything we’ve just seen.
The film revolves around Tish, a young woman who is living a troubled existence from the start of the film. We see her in moments of solitary unhappiness, milling about her bedroom, having her morning cigarette and coffee with a morose and anxious look on her face. There is a disparity between the soft colors and comforts of her environment and the invisible black cloud that seems to be fixed somewhere above her. Sad but subtle piano notes twinkle in the background as the scene slowly becomes more claustrophobic, with the space moving in around her until we have a voyeuristic shot of her getting dressed through the doorway. As she steps out for the day, we then move back away from her as she approaches the elevator. This bit of cinematography and composition sets up the idea that we have shared a private moment of unease and are now leaving it unresolved as Tish, as if something concealed by her new outfit, heads out to face the world.
Next we get a point of view shot of the city at night as a car travels home. We hear a somewhat banal conversation about the party that the passengers have just attended, Tishta is among them. The lights blur and drift at a slowed pace that channels the drunkenness of the passengers, but also seems to contain something of the emotional malaise that we’ve seen Tishta struggling with. When we see her again, we are entering her apartment with her boyfriend Avi. He kisses her, but she is only partially responsive before pushing him away, complaining that she doesn’t feel well. Avi becomes concerned, but she insists that it’s nothing and pushes him along and out the door. We cut to a new day next, and Tishta is at work on her laptop on her bed when Avi calls. He says he misses her and asks her to come on Skype, where he pleads with her to remove her top as she reluctantly plays along until she gets irritated and discontinues the call.
In the final sequence, we see Avi and Tishta together on the beach, where he again attempts to get to the bottom of what’s troubling her and she responds with anger, saying she doesn’t love him anymore. Rather than becoming angry in turn, he asks her again what happened. We then get a flashback to a night time incident on the street as Tishta is walking home. She is suddenly groped by a man on the back of a motorcycle who rides away before she is able to fight back. When we cut back to the beach, the pain of the memory is finally released, and Tish begins to weep in Avi’s arms as she finally allows herself to experience it. It’s a powerful moment as we feel the full impact of this memory and realize the reverberations
that it’s had through her life. The actors are excellent, drawing attention to the excess of the musical cues that are used to accentuate the drama at some points. One thing the music illustrates very well though, is the fact that Tishta, while she may escape the current emotional rut she’s in, is none the less forever changed by this assault.
There’s a blank feeling at the end of the film of not having a good sense of who these characters are to each other, or what happens next, which is a little frustrating. We’ve mostly seen Tish as a distant and unknowable person, and the revelation makes her more sympathetic, but it would be more impactful if we were able to see her as something besides a victim. Avi, on the other hand, is a relentlessly doting boyfriend, but his obliviousness to the turmoil Tishta is in gets quite extreme before she finally nearly has to end the relationship just to make him pay attention and take a more serious approach. These weaknesses set aside, it is an overall effective piece with especially strong camera work and casting. It skates by on melodrama a little too much for it’s own good, but it’s strengths ultimately shine through.
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