“She’s the only woman I’ve ever been with”
Some films not only necessitate a second viewing to wrap one’s head around the subtle intricacies, but also cause you to beg for the opportunity to watch again. Writer/director Jay Pulk’s short film Copper Penny is one of these. Screening at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, I am almost glad I wasn’t able to catch it. Had I been able to, I would have been completely distraught at the knowledge I might never have a chance to watch it again with the knowledge only seeing it beforehand can deliver. Being happy I missed it is seriously bestowing my highest praise upon this gem. Thankfully, having made Pulk’s acquaintance at the festival, I was able to secure a copy of the film so I could view it on my own time to enjoy and review. Yeah, you guessed it; as soon as those credits began to roll I hit the menu button on my remote and quickly hit play to take the journey again.
Copper Penny is tough to talk about without ruining the well-conceived plotline. Pulk has crafted the film in such a way that the audience only becomes privy to pertinent information at the last possible moment—causing the knowledge to effectively work in the context of what you thought was happening and also subvert it all to reveal underlying facts that make the truth different from what you originally had thought. One could argue its construction is gimmicky and a ruse eliciting a reaction the filmmaker manufactures in us with a double twist, but I disagree with this assessment. The first ‘twist’ is in fact the end of the story. The film’s first moment of full disclosure is the natural progression for what’s happening. An unnamed gentleman escorts a female companion into a motel room in order to wrap his head around the shattered mess his life has become. Needing consoling and help in order to reconnect with his wife, the prostitute he has followed can no longer be of assistance since the physical contact he needs is with the woman he loves. The hidden truth of her role in his life becomes the logical and fitting end, hitting you hard before the real twist occurs, bringing every action and word back into your consciousness for a second evaluation.
But the film is more than just it’s ending, no matter how effective. Pulk’s directorial success is seen with the meticulously framed imagery, angling the camera from the motel bed, oftentimes softening one character’s focus while the other becomes the main focal point. Even when both actors (Michele Messmer as the woman and Norm Roth as the man) are seated together, the shallow depth of field is utilized—this broken man constantly fading away into his ocean of emotions. And their performances show how much exposition and character development can occur from just six-minutes of body language, seemingly inconsequential facts about their lives and motivations for why they are in that room together, and an ability to embody the pain (him) and the empathy (her) necessary to make the culmination of their random meeting so beautifully tragic in its result. Messmer cannot help Roth; she can’t get his life—lacking a job and a wife to love—to make sense again. Even so, after you find out who she really is, you’ll still ask the question of whether the choice she makes could have ultimately changed things.
Pulk recently told me that he had come up with the idea to expand on these characters and create a film series depicting more of their world. I am both excited and worried about the prospect. The ultimate achievement of Copper Penny is a direct result of the carefully unraveled truth at its core. Knowing everyone’s role for sequels, or perhaps prequels as well, not only makes his job of writing more chapters as hard-hitting as this difficult, but also could belittle the original’s reveal. That said, I am very interested to see where he goes next and with whom he continues to follow. This piece is a memorable work that deserves each and every festival inclusion it has been receiving. The strength of its story alone gives me faith that if anyone could expand a universe so perfect in its singular encapsulation, Jay Pulk is the one to do it.
Copper Penny 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
Check out the film’s website at Ion Films.