To herald the start of the fourth season of their Film School Shorts on PBS, northern California-based KQED has made the acclaimed short film, The Lotus Gun, available for instant streaming. Written and directed by Amanda Milius, daughter of John Milius (Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now), The Lotus Gun was originally conceived as her thesis film to graduate from the University of Southern California and has since traveled from festival to festival gathering awards and building buzz. Though the story is short, the narrative is laser-focused and storytelling technique is extraordinary. From the way she frames her shots to the direction of the cast, Milius demonstrates great skill early in her career, which makes her creative talent one to keep watch for.
Set in post-apocalyptic 2077, Nora (Lauren Avery) and Daphine (Dasha Nekrassova) live quietly in the wilderness, enjoying the peace and freedom that the open land offers, as well as each other. All of this changes when they meet Mike (Austin Mackinnon), a runaway from a commune whose principles differ greatly from the girls’. When Daphine is kidnapped by Mike as a tribute to Dennis (John WInscher), the commune leader, Nora must rescue her from a fate Nora knows all too well. From a place Nora promised herself she’d never return.
From the start, Milius sets up The Lotus Gun to seem like a straight-forward action film. The introduction sets up who the two girls are to each other and why they avoid others. When Daphine is kidnapped, it’s expected that Nora will come to her rescue, but what’s unexpected is that the film takes on a western feel with a revenge bent. For instance, Nora, our hero, speaks little through The Lotus Gun’s 25-minute runtime and when she does, it’s through gritted teeth and looking down at someone from the edge of a weapon. In the few bits of dialogue she has, Nora seems hardened in contrast to Daphine’s naivety. Though the action doesn’t kick off until Nora’s girlfriend is taken, the act of saving Daphine from the commune feels less about rescuing her lover and more about coming to terms with Nora’s own past; a past that is referenced during a brief conversation when the girls meet Mike and that is, soon after, all but confirmed.
There are three moments in The Lotus Gun that are absolutely worth noting that speak volumes about Milius’ directorial skills. The first moment occurs when Nora unburies her hidden weapon. Most directors would make this moment brief, skipping over showing the work required to dig up any kind of desirable, but dangerous loot. Instead, Milius makes us watch Nora dig deeply into the ground to unearth her gun – showing the audience what Nora is willing to go through to get Daphine back while also representing the life Nora had tried to bury. The second is an interesting editing choice during Nora’s journey to the commune. Nora walks with the sun high overhead. When she suddenly kneels, the sun is placed directly in the audience’s eye line, providing a transition to show nuclear explosion after nuclear explosion until Nora stands to continue her journey, placing the sun behind her again. Up to this point, the audience is told very little about what happened that set people against one another. It’s a simple moment that also ties directly to our hero, Nora, and her continuous internal rage. Which brings us to the third moment, when Nora confronts Dennis. Again, inspired by westerns, Nora acts without words in a succinct, yet satisfying denouement.
The feminine viewpoint in popular cinema is rarely demonstrated so competently, as women tend to be regulated to the caregiver or romantic partner role. Amanda Milius demonstrates quite well that women are just as capable of bringing forth the pain of vengeance as anyone and for no other reason than self-satisfaction. As a prelude to the fourth season of KQED’s Film School Shorts, The Lotus Gun is available now for streaming and it’s include below this review. There is some incredible talent behind the camera and I’m curious to see what Amanda Milius does next.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.
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About Film School Shorts:
Film School Shorts is a new, national half-hour weekly series that showcases short student films from across the country. Each week, viewers can watch well-crafted films with high production values, strong dialogue and riveting drama. Grouped together around a central theme or topic, and featuring production values that rival their indie film counterparts, KQED is proud to present award winning entertainment to a national audience. Featured are the best short films from major institutions like NYU, Columbia University, UCLA, USC and University of Texas that have wowed audiences at Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Telluride and SXSW.
Check local listings for details on the fourth season premiere of Film School Shorts.