In his highly underrated book written by John Steinbeck, ‘Cup of Gold’, Henry Morgan, the Welsh pirate who became the first commander to successfully sack Panama, states: “I may have some value to historians because I have destroyed a few things. The builder of your Cathedral is forgotten even now, but I, who burned it, may be remembered for a hundred years or so. And that may mean something or other about mankind”.
This indeed is rather telling of a too common tendency of mankind – many examples from history can be found where destructive acts are better remembered and of more interest to posterity than constructive acts. Nero, one of the Roman Empire’s many leaders, remains well-known due to his madness and his involvement in the Great Fire of Rome, in 64 AD. Natasza Cetner’s short film bares the same name, and while no direct reference of the Roman Emperor is made, one can easily trace parallels between the naming choice and man’s destructive tendencies, which is a central theme of the project.
The young director, whose previous film ‘The Three Tales From Alexandria’ impressed us deeply, yet again manages an impressive job of condensing a non-negligible array of meanings into a film which does not exceed 4 minutes of runtime. In short, man, the epitomisation of mankind as a whole, throughout evolution, stumbles upon a chest which constitutes a peaceful micro-environment for a variety of creatures. Initially starting an exploratory journey as a result of awe and curiosity, the process of exploration gradually turns more and more into a maddening strive to assert authority and impose control. The narrative is simple, and its metaphorical connotations are easy to interpret, while remaining rich and very well evidenced – a very good balance between complexity and accessibility.
The most striking aspect about ‘Nero’, however, is its visual style. It is a dauting task to fit the project within a certain framework, and it would indeed be more relevant to describe it as somewhere in-between surrealism, absurdism and minimalism. The manner in which the drawings come to life is unique, and their combination with an equally minimalistic score and sound effects gives the entire project a unique flavour.
All things considered, Natasza Cetner’s ‘Nero’ is a great achievement not only from an audio-visual point of view, but equally in terms of content. It chronicles the greatest sin of mankind, that of destruction – and ultimately self-destruction, whether direct or indirect – and does so in a thoroughly smart and provocative way.