When high school kids get on the school bus, they immerse themselves into an ecosystem of sorts. Confined to the claustrophobic interior, having no choice but to interact with each other, their deepest inhibitions and desires surface despite their best attempts to suppress them. Filmmaker Adrian Moyse Dullin captures that moment beautifully in his poignant short The Right Words. It’s a snapshot of that emotional, tumultuous ride we all remember so well, the 15 minutes or so that meant the world to us. Each day, the bus ride to school would determine how the day went, and the bus ride back would signify its end.
For Dullin’s protagonist, Mahdi (Yasser Osmani), this happens to be an extra-important bus ride. He’s head over heels in love with Jada (Sanya Salhi), who seems to barely acknowledge his existence. She sits with the cool, older kids on the other side of the bus. Mahdi’s sister, Kenza (Aya Halal), eggs him on to talk to her, most likely to amuse herself when he inevitably fails. “Don’t tell her you like her,” she advises. Her friend, Aïssatou (Rama Ndongo), joins in the fun, until Kenza strikes a nerve with something she says, and Aïssatou’s own desires surface. The finale features a confession of sorts, and a bittersweet ending, wherein popularity still presides over true love.
The Right Words touchingly demonstrates a fragment of a childhood, with all of its trepidation and romance. It nails that effervescent feeling of one’s whole life being ahead of them. . . but kids are too busy dwelling, choosing the titular right words to interact, soaking in the tidbits overheard from the adult world and trying to utilize them. Inconsequential issues seem gargantuan, a smile can make or break a mood, and Snapchat is God. Their attempts at communication – as Mahdi demonstrates – are clumsy, and it’s only when the young boy conveys his true feelings, as opposed to going against his instincts, that Jada reacts.
In less than 15 minutes, Dullin, along with co-writer Emma Benestan, manages to reveal so much about the characters, their relationships, their fears. Subtle touches, like a hand brushing against another, amount to a piercing exposé of the society that spawns us. The media, older/cooler kids, parents, ideologies – there are many things affecting a developing mind – but at the end of the day, staying true to yourself remains the most important. It’s difficult to find the right words to describe Dullin’s film, but “delicate” and “shrewd” will do.