All of that for nothing.
Writer/director Terence Nance describes his short film Univitellin as “an improvised prequel about the past lives of one person—about the two people they were before they karmically merged.” It’s important to know this because that’s not what you’d assume upon watching its tale of fated and tragic romance between Aminata (Aminata M’Bathie) and Badara (Badara Ngom). On the surface we’re merely watching as this couple meets on the train to work, sitting across from the other in silence. It shows the possible ways that could bring them together before presenting what happened and how they evolve together like many couples their age. We hear them converse with narrative subtext about a frivolous topic taken seriously and a serious one taken frivolously. And then they lose control.
This isn’t a story about love wherein two souls coexist side-by-side—choosing the other as his/her second half to an unrealized whole. It’s instead about two souls seeking literal completion, a union proving to be of permanence and therefore beyond attraction and/or compromise. Nance moves past romance towards necessity. He introduces two characters that will be tested instantly rather than allowed the space to breathe. They may think they have the time to feel each other out and discover what their many similarities and differences mean, but that type of thought is flawed. Danger and tragedy lurk in the shadows as well as good yet misguided intentions. The life we aspire to earn isn’t guaranteed. And rather than finding agreement, love is exposed as being about sacrifice.
The film of course works on both levels, though. You can see it as a metaphor on relationships or a physical manifestation of X- and Y-chromosome merging to form new life. And Nance delivers it with his unorthodox cinematic language, watching Aminata and Badara grow together while commenting on the process and dictating their actions in a metatextual way. He simultaneously visualizes fantasy and presents reality so we must interpret everything that happens through parallel lenses. We watch a mother (Naky Sy Savane) hoping to merge her best qualities (her daughter) with the best qualities of another only to discover she has no say in the matter. That which is born is unique. Its product is only seen after uniting rather than constructed beforehand by its two halves.
Univitellin leads towards an ending as devastating as it is beautiful: a Romeo and Juliet-esque climax of absolute certainty wherein regret is replaced by intent. Aminata’s choice is made and yet she is still a victim of unwanted pursuit. Badara’s choice is therefore more pointed as far as she is concerned. With her fully committed, he must decide whether to join her: “Yes” or “No.” Nance then portrays the result with visual poetry as both characters sit as reflections in a mirror. They are one and the same, forever a part of the other inside this brand new soul with an unknown future before it. This is the product of love that transcends origins. It’s the representation of beauty out of despair and life out of death.