Austin Film Festival Review: “Briefly” Tells a Simple Story of Method Acting Gone Terribly Wrong
Written by: Adam Vaughn | October 31st, 2021
Briefly (“Vlugtig”) (Marinus Gubitz, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
One of the 2021 Austin Film Festival‘s many narrative features was the quaint story of a young aspiring actor, Simon Berg (Arno Greeff) who, after struggling to succeed in the acting industry, is given the chance of a lifetime to be the star in the latest stage production of famous director Andreas Vog (Ernst van Wyk). Vog invites Simon and his leading lady Chantel (Jane de Wet) to a secluded house in the woods to rehearse his rendition of “Little Red Riding Hood.” As the three rehearse for the production, Vog pushes Simon further and further to the brink of insanity, leaving Simon to question whether he has what it takes to be the lead, and whether he is a “woodsman” or a “wolf.”
Briefly, a feature-length adaptation of director Marinus Gubitz’s own 2017 short, explores some very entertaining and insightful themes of the boundaries and dangers of intense method acting. The film use similar techniques as others like it, such as the 2014 movies Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and Whiplash, the former with its journey of self-discovery and the latter with an authoritative mentor punishing his pupil to make him the best he can possibly be. The shock factor behind various scenes of struggle for Simon gives Briefly its intensity and raises the stakes (and seemingly raises the stakes for Chantel, although her involvement in the story is quite obvious after a time).
Unfortunately, Briefly has a premise that’s been said and done before. The film’s setup, midpoint, and outcome are all clear as day from the start, and the plot doesn’t twist and turn us as forcefully as Gubitz wants it to. The story starts at a very slow and methodical pace, causing interest in the characters to be lost very early in the process. While Gubitz does eventually pick up his rhythm and launch us into the action, there is never a true peak point of intensity or dramatic flair that makes us either sympathize or despise the characters in any unique way.
While I admire the film’s spin on the classic fairy tale, especially how it ties in at the end to Simon’s journey to becoming “the wolf” in all metaphorical ways, for me Briefly simply goes through the motions of cinematic storytelling. It never truly tries to engage the audience, nor is it clever enough with its dialogue to stand out from the many films about acting and its toils. While I respect the concise planning from a production standpoint, specifically small nuances in art direction, Briefly simply isn’t exciting enough to hold its own.