TIFF13: Roland (2013)


Roland is a short film that understands the limitations of the genre. Short films necessitate having smaller stakes, fewer characters, and limited locations. They need to be self-contained and offer a full story within their short running time. Writer/director Trevor Cornish gets all this and uses these limitations to his advantage. The trifling stakes of Roland, amped up with a good dose of exaggeration, and the mundane setting are what lend the film its humour.

On a quiet night in a craft store, Roland (Daniel Beirne) is the only competent employee manning his post. An imposing old man (Richard Denison) comes in and asks Roland to use the employee bathroom. Being the by-the-book employee that he is, Roland politely refuses. The old man is less-than-pleased. Conflict ensues.

As is made clear from the get-go, the conflict would be quickly resolved if the characters were more flexible. But they aren’t. The fastidious and law-abiding nature of Roland, when his coworker is very obviously shirking her responsibilities and talking on the phone with a friend, makes him unable to break store policy. The old man correctly points out that no one would ever know he broke store policy, but this line of thinking cannot possibly satisfy Roland. Conversely, Roland points out multiple times that there is a coffee shop across the street with an open washroom. The old man could simply cross the street and his problem would be solved, but he’s too ornery to give in to Roland’s polite insistence.

Roland’s charm comes from the way the conflict is exaggerated to ludicrous proportions. Roland is convinced that the old man means him harm so he keeps his utility knife close at hand and creeps about the store like he is the sole survivor of a horror film. Mark Rajakovic’s score obliges Roland’s mindset, and pulses with the familiar sounds of a horror film. When the old man kicks over some cans of paint in anger, the paint spills blood red and peppers Roland’s face in faux-wounds. Throughout Roland the tone and content are at brilliant odds with each other. This is all hilarious stuff.

Unfortunately, the final moments of the film suffer from a too-obvious twist, a common affliction of short films that are trying too hard to wow in their final moments. But it’s hardly an egregious flaw. And even though the final joke’s punch line seems too inevitable, it still delivers a laugh.

Roland is modest, but it’s a highly efficient comedy. If only every debut short film were as confident.

7 out of 10

Roland (2013/Canada)

Directed by Trevor Cornish; written by Trevor Cornish and Niall Kelly; starring Daniel Beirne, Richard Denison, Lindsey Clark, Alice Moran, Patricia Vanstone and Jordan McCloskey.

Roland plays on Sept. 11 and 12 during the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Short Cuts Canada program.