We all know the sad story of Madame Butterfly and her tragic love affair. Well, Charles Sweeney invites us to a sort of alternative ending of the famous opera. However, his short film, ‘The Vow‘, doesn’t take place in the early twentieth century, but in the United States of our very present. At the same time, the marriage between these modern Cio-cio-san and Pinkerton is far from following the structure of a happily ever after story. On the contrary, the short film illustrates the dysfunctional relationship of a couple based on a cross-cultural contract marriage, in which she becomes the victim of repeated physical and emotional abuse. In this context, we can deduce that the musical leitmotif “Un bel di vedremo” that the director uses has rather cynical implications. But this aspect doesn’t diminish in any way the emotional impact of the storyline. On the contrary, the project manages to capture a sour perspective on contemporaneity in which themes such as the status of immigrants, misogyny, cultural cleavages between the West and the East reveal monstrous aspects of these “nonconformist” pairs.
Without giving us details about the characters’ past, just a few relevant clues to guess the unprivileged status of the young Xiu who is to become the wife of an upper-class American, the short film evolves as an intimate drama, against the canvas of a cruel, but often poetic realism. The conflict thus happens at the present moment, being restrained to details that capture the couple in some of its most violent hypostases, with slight flash-forward moments that offer the viewers the possibility to intuit the outcome. This technique allows Charles Sweeney to intelligently encapsulate the entire destiny of the main character in the small dimensions of his project, but the risk that this choice might be perceived as superficial by certain viewers is not out of the question. In fact, this short film has the substance of a feature film that promises a much broader exploration of the above-mentioned themes. However, at the current stage, the director gives us all the ingredients for a sufficiently cohesive story. At the same time, the film has that aesthetic refinement that pleasantly surprises, being built with attention and professionalism in a succession of beautifully filmed frames. Through ‘The Vow’, the director seems to have found that special formula for combining the cruelty of domestic realism with moments of intimate poetry in a cinematic narrative that is both sensitive and violent. We are happy to host this short film, but at the same time, we are looking forward to seeing what it will look like in its feature film version.