CARMENTIS: When The Sun Goes Down

Science fiction has always been as much about the human condition as sailing through space or encountering aliens– Star Wars was never about the actual lightsabers, but rather who was holding them – a feeling which informs the rich soul at the centre of Antony Webb’s Carmentis. This sincere short never runs out of ways to use the subversive and generative potential of the sci-fi genre to articulate the loneliness and disorientation that haunt the film’s main character, space miner Mac (Ben Mortley).

Whether its the sonic and visual details of the titular planet that serves as Mac’s workplace turned desolate adversary, or the Siri-sounding emergency A.I. System named Eve (Adriane Daff) – the J.A.R.V.I.S. counterpart to Mac’s lumber, mustard-shaded Iron Man – Carmentis aptly expresses in just several frames how his safe return to Earth has been brutally cut short by a free-fall descent back to the rocky terrain that he once excavated.

Nobody Can Hear You Scream

Not only is Mac stuck on this abandoned planet alone, but he’s stuck in his suit as Eve (Extra-Vehicular Emergency System) has immobilised his punctured space regalia as an automatic response to his intense spinal injuries. Overriding his controls through gritted teeth, the dishevelled and grief-stricken miner must dodge reminders and rose-tinted memories of the ex-wife he’s left at home, to at least get himself upright. Receiving no feedback from any emergency response services, the lonely prospector is obliged to scamper back to his base camp in just two hours time before a total solar eclipse stops his tragic story short.

source: Lonely Astronaut

Forced to ascend a steep, jagged mountainside, one of many that populate the cloudy topography of Carmentis – charcoal slated in colour but with a fine glassy texture – Mac’s vertiginous journey is punctuated with persistent audio updates from Eve, calmly reminding him of his accelerating heart-rate like an irritating FitBit alarm, never missing a beat to remind her host that his death is steadily creeping closer with every passing second.

Carmentis‘ narrative and aesthetic sensibilities, crisply captured by David Le May, feel cut from the same cloth as Ridley Scott’s perpetual Alien franchise, as Mac’s expedition into the unknown unveils the wonders of the untapped worlds beyond our purview in both their ugly and spectacular potentials. Comparisons to The Martian wouldn’t go astray either, with Mac’s sheer stubbornness against an environment that efficiently rejects him at every turn is akin to Matt Damon’s noble “science the shit out of it” mentality during his similar cosmic-marooned circumstances.

Like The Martian, the film’s biggest asset is the central anchoring presence of Ben Mortley, as he externalises his fractured past and subsequent struggling emotions with robust results, formulating a broad paradigm of alternating states of mind with ease. Webb’s script delivers the essentials when it comes to Mac’s past, and Mortley renders them in the real, with crucial cooperation from Jo Morris, whose fleeting appearances solidify Mac’s shattered recollections with a blunt intensity.

As Mac strives towards his Edenic endpoint, Ash Gibson Greig’s aspiring score cunningly incarnates Mac’s surging sensation for wanting to survive – rather than instinctively needing to – contributing notably to Webb’s deft direction, which disguises a brisk character study within familiar genre trappings that maintains a pulsating continuity of suspense throughout its compact running time.

Carmentis: Conclusion

Antony Webb’s trek into the geographical and psychological interstellar wastelands of Carmentis and the lone man who roams it is a disciplined and humanely clear-eyed portrait of rediscovery; whether it be the love of a previous partner, the base camp that you seek for solace or even just unearthing what it means to be human, Mac’s redeeming odyssey relaxes into a poignant tale that is both rousing and sorrowful.

Carmentis had its World Premiere at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and will continue to travel the festival circuit throughout this year. More details about upcoming screenings and festival dates can be found here.

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