Inga Barseghyan haunts the screen as a helping hand in I Am Close By in the most frightening way possible. In this dramatic thriller, Barseghyan plays Beth, a school girl who has lost her mother to suicide and has been abandoned by her father. Her Aunt Josephine (Melanya Antonyan) adopted Beth. Since then the two have led lives distant from one another, but when Aunt Josephine becomes depressed, Beth decides to cure Aunt Josephine’s depression through extreme measures.
Ruhi Sayyed, the writer of I Am Close By, structured the short much like a cautionary tale on trauma. Suffering begets suffering. The short opens with a quote “there is never a purpose so pure than to end the suffering of others.” While that may seem true, it’s also a warped perspective that robs agency from the suffering to break free themselves.
I Am Close By carries the audience through a dark, emotional journey that dives into the psyche of Beth, a traumatized youth. The film illuminates how people treat mental health as an object that needs to be fixed. Even now, being there as a support system without taking control of the person suffering is a huge issue in society. It is human nature to want to help others, but sometimes that can be to others’ detriment.
When trying to get inside Beth’s head, it doesn’t hurt to have voiceover aid us. Much of Sayyed’s script is Beth’s voiceover. The voiceover enhances Beth’s isolation. Director Vijendra Bhambhani and Cinematographer David Safaryan also wisely shot the film close-up. Much of the film is framed in medium close-ups with a handheld technique. The audience doesn’t have a huge sense for the larger world. The environment is contained to Beth’s limited perspective which enhances the thematic feeling of being stuck inside one’s own head.
From a production standpoint, this film is a great example of how to shoot a short film. Sticking to limited locations, a small cast, and centering the film mainly in one relationship works well for a short format where you only have so much time to establish characters, relationship, and a story arc. Budding filmmakers should take notice. This film also didn’t skimp on post. The sound mixing and coloring are both high quality. While most indie filmmakers put great stock into image, some new filmmakers tend to overlook the sound and tone of the film, both of which are mastered through a quality post process.
Barseghyan and Antonyan’s performances carry the film with gravitas. The two actors had no dialogue to inform their characterization, and had to portray their roles through their facial expressions and physicality. Antonyan’s portrayal of depression is earnest and heartbreaking. Her depressive exhaustion is palpable. In the exact way Barseghyan slams her binder on the ground and plops onto her staircase crying, I believe she is a victim of bullying. I believe Barseghyan has transformed when she stares coldly through the trees after performing a heinous deed.
It’s interesting that Sayyed chose to open with a mother-daughter dynamic that is different from Beth and Aunt Joesphine’s. The daughter in the opening has chosen compassion instead of judgment toward her depressed mother. That relationship could have very well been cut out of the film and not necessarily affected the plot, but It felt like an intentional choice to keep it. The scene demonstrated an important contrast in behavior, one that audiences may think about long after the film has finished.
A takeaway from the cautionary tale: people should not be fixed, but it doesn’t hurt to be kind. Just imagine if someone like Beth grew up in a loving environment, or if she had a safe space to discuss her mother’s passing. Maybe her outlook on life would be different. We could all stand to be a little less controlling, and a little more compassionate. Maybe then those that are suffering can break free from the cycle of trauma all on their own.