Godard of small things

In Noam Toran's short film a man re-lives A bout de souffle with the help of a video joystick. Jay Merrick enjoys the ride
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The Independent Culture

Here's the set-up. We're eavesdropping on a man getting ready for a night out. There's a tight shot of a hand with a razor, followed by staccato jump-cuts – brushing teeth, gargling. The camera tracks left to a laundered white shirt. And then more stroby jump-cuts, until the stranger is appraising himself in the mirror, deadpan in a Prince of Wales check suit, doing facial exercises and primping his eyebrows.

The stranger in Noam Toran's polished vignette, Object for Lonely Men, is both the perpetrator and the knowing victim of the piece. And in seven gripping, witty minutes, the Royal College of Art graduate delivers a micro-budget film whose smallest details glint hilariously from a narrative whose satirical conceit is otherwise a one-trick pony.

And the object of the stranger's desire? To be at one with Jean-Luc Godard's 1959 classic, A bout de souffle, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg; to smoke Gitanes in sync with the French Bogart; to achieve lip-meld with his gamine moll; and to get some alpha-male action in the sack.

The obvious answer would be to get out the video and make do with a shot-glass, plenty of ice and a bottle of Jack, which has, in the fantasy of choice, recently been dusted for fingerprints. But Toran's method is more thorough than that.

We watch our protagonist put a TV dinner and a glass of wine on a tray with fastidious precision. Cue a dodgy Sixties samba-jazz soundtrack as he walks purposefully down a corridor lit with pools of light and jags of shadow. Here, there can only be right or wrong, action or inaction; greyness and gradual inertia affect only those who are not strangers with pallid, vinylesque skin.

Toran's shadowy creation enters his special boudoir. In it are a chair and a table whose top is covered with a moulded plastic tray. The indents in this are purposeful. They contain a revolver, sunglasses, a pack of Gitanes, a photograph of Belmondo and a video joystick. Strangest of all are the toytown steering wheel and the hinged, stylised head of a woman, which stares up from its wide slot in the tray.

Then, without warning, we're watching a clip from A Bout de Souffle: Belmondo, reading a newspaper,mutters: "After all, I'm an arsehole." The stranger watches the film on a flip-up screen attached to the table, meshing his words and actions with Belmondo's. He turns the steering wheel, pre-empts the dialogue, fires his gun. Belmondo and Seberg in bed? No problem: his copycat doll-cranium rises up; he plants a kiss on it, and then drapes his shirt over himself and the ersatz paramour; rumpling ensues. The final gunshot, the final kiss.

Film(s) over.

These, the bare bones of Toran's work, can only rattle. But flesh there is – and it has a history that began when he was seven years old, being dragged to three or four films each week in San Francisco by his father, who was an assistant director. It was there that he absorbed Hitchcock and film noir – "and Gun Crazy, The Maltese Falcon and the whole Howard Hawks series. Plus the French New Wave".

After college in California, Toran pursued fine art and product design. "I'm interested in our relationship with objects," he says. "Film comes from fantasy and influences our fantasies. It genericises our fantasy. In many ways, film dictates what our fantasies are. We do want to kiss the girl; we do want to fire the gun.

"In the film, the whole set-up was that the character was preparing for his night out, which was no more absurd than our normal nights out. He stays in, and goes out in a different way."

Toran's graduate show ancillaries were a series of ironic bloke-aids: a gizmo that exhales warm breath on pillows; a cylinder that rumples sheets as a body would; a chest-hair curler; a rapid-fire plate thrower "for those Greek argument moments"; an alarm clock that wakes you by flailing long hairs across your face.

No wonder he's besotted with David Cronenberg, "a director of ideas rather than a director of stories. That use of objects as characters, and the relationship between characters and objects. I think this is very peculiar. It's this trying to find triangular universes – fantasy objects and people. In our sex lives we give ourselves to fantasy women, like children.

"Then there's so much good Catholic and Jewish guilt in other aspects of our lives that we completely repress that. So there's a lot of comedy to be found. It makes me curious."

It is a curiosity which, in due course, will produce "a series of vignettes to be put together in a film about people and their relationship with objects". And it may bear the kind of fruit absurd strangers like to bite into while planning a fatal night in.

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