Russian fur thief Subienkow watches as a fellow comrade is brutally tortured by a native American tribe he and his group had previously enslaved. Eager to avoid the same treatment, Subienkow enters into negotiations with the tribe’s leader, Makamuk: his life in exchange for a recipe for a powerful medicine.
Adapted from a short story of the same name by 1800s American writer Jack London, there is a lot more at stake here than a summary might suggest. The power struggle between the two characters is heightened by the presence of Yakaga, a just freed slave who begins to doubt the actions of his leader. The story was originally printed as the first chapter in a book (also called ‘Lost Face’) of 7 short stories, all of which take place in the brutal Yukon Territory in Canada. The story is adapted by the director, Sean Meehan, who manages impeccably well to retain the tension and cold but ever present hope of the book.
Meehan’s direction is simple, placing a lot of faith in the text. One interesting choice is Meehan’s decision over the subtitles. The dialogue between the tribe at the start of the film is not translated, placing us in the dark and uniting us with Subienkow, not yet knowing the exact horror of his fate.
Meehan also acts as his own cinematographer on the short, and this is where his talent truly lies. Because of the setting and subject matter, The Revenant immediately springs to mind, which seems unfortunate as this was probably not intended. Looking closer, there is far more humanity grounded into the shots. The spirituality of Iñárritu’s film is ignored here, allowing, perhaps, for a fuller investment of the audience’s emotion into the characters.
Lost Face is an intriguing insight into the lengths a person will go to in order to avoid pain. As a short film, it is intelligent, and wonderfully handles the three way struggle for power. In fact, my only real complaint about the film is that is was only 14 minutes long. Perhaps there is a future for more of Jack London’s short stories on screen – I would be interested to see one be lengthened to a feature. In any case, we should all be very interested to see Sean Meehan’s next project.
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