Flames opens with an aerial view of an urban town, quiet but populated, during the last minutes of twilight. A bustling transit line stretches before a cluster of skyrise apartment buildings. Two brothers are sitting in a parked car readying to train – but the sport has not been revealed. One of the brothers tapes his fingers while handing the other a VHS of Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker (Russia’s greatest dancer) and it’s time for the men to go. They exit the car and squeeze through a padlocked metal fence. At a clearing, jackets are off and the characters come into view through their jerseys: red wrestler (Akshat Sharma) and blue wrestler (Jabar Bains). Prior to this moment, we only catch shadows of faces so the actors are not distinguishable until now; they are one – even as their features sharpen and differentiate under the streetlights.
The wrestlers, in beautiful performances, extend a polite handshake and then wrestle with a fluidity that surprises for this sport. Soon, we understand, as the tangled arms become a ballet. Director of Photography, Luke Säägi, uses light to psychologically vignette the perimeter around the men. The audience can only focus on the wrestling and the peeping grandfather (Ramesh Sangani), who calls out at the midpoint of this short film to disapprove of the ballet-beautiful movement.
We see the grandfather on the heights of an apartment building, watching from the balcony. He’s behind thick binoculars and has whistled for them to get back to wrestling. The wrestlers roughen their moves a touch – but he isn’t happy. The grandfather urges the red wrestler, who holds the most authority, to “be a champion, c’mon” as the old man’s eyes cast downward. Instead, the red wrestler lets his brother loose and they dance.
“Soon you’ll be old and out of your prime,” says the grandfather. Suddenly, the balcony from where he cried out presents a red fiery line expanding. The red wrestler laughs, pleased. They dance awhile longer paused only by a siren and the sight of smoke swelling out of the balcony.
With precise, stylish execution by director, Matthew Manhire, Flames is a genre blender. It’s comedic for its disgruntled grandfather who oozes a bravado and quirk matched to Wes Anderson casts. The melting of wrestling to dance has a philosophical beauty, adding drama and secret entry to an otherwise “boy’s” club.
Flames is an invigorating 5 minute short examining truth and art as explosive necessities of the soul.