There are two ways indie filmmakers can view low budgets: as an obstacle or as a creative opportunity. In his directorial debut, Pércival Bernard exemplifies creativity on the screen through his 18-minute short film “Wet Seal Cigarettes.” Pyramidal Productions is a new production company focused on telling unorthodox stories through the lens of under-represented individuals and artists. They are entering the limelight with the surreal and French New Wave influenced “Wet Seal Cigarettes”.
“Wet Seal Cigarettes” follows Nicholas Bordeaux (Nicholas G. Sims), a young man looking to resist the tempting but enigmatic Wet Seal Cigarette. The genre bending story showcases a deep look into the theme of consumerist society against individuality on a (mostly) black & white screen. The film was influenced by classic French New Wave Cinema and the Blaxploitation era of the 70s and 80s, and utilizes creative techniques at both a narrative and cinemagraphic level.
When discussing both film movements’ influence on “Wet Seal Cigarettes,” Bernard states: “These components have allowed me to express my own personal perspective of the Black experience in a way that has not been seen before on screen or in literature as well as pen a cinematic love letter to those influences.” Bernard plans for this film to act as an interlude to a future trilogy.
A standout aspect of this short film comes from the lead actor. Nicholas G. Sims gives an excellent performance as a man fighting to remain sane. As a man who does not smoke, he manages to evade the Wet Seal Cigarettes for as long as he possibly can. The character’s resistance to the cigarettes represents his desire to maintain his composure against a world constantly pushing him in a different direction. Sims’ nuanced performance tells the audience everything we need to know about Nicholas and showcases a bright future for the actor.
When discussing the film’s theme of the individual versus a consumerist society, Bernard writes: “This film was created to capture dreams and emotions vividly while at the same time, remaining detached from society’s addiction to commercialize the human experience and its eagerness to devour the individual.” This idea is presented gloriously in the genre bending world that is “Wet Seal Cigarettes”.
There are also some striking visuals from “Wet Seal Cigarettes” which are enough to make any film enthusiast excited to see the film on the screen. Opening with Nicholas behind bars, Bernard takes us right into the action with gorgeous imagery. There are also many close ups of Nicholas’ face, which give us an insight into both Sims’ expressive performance and Bernard’s focus. There is a moment where Nicholas comes across a dead body and we see his reaction in contrast to a chain link fence. This brilliant use of lighting and shadows shows us how Nicholas’ rational mind slips into insanity. Perhaps the most iconic image of the film is a close up of Nicholas surrounded by a bunch of Wet Seal Cigarettes. This image exemplifies the film and the protagonist’s struggle to resist the temptations offered by the cigarettes. This tableaux also acts as the film’s poster, and it is such a strong visual that I wouldn’t be shocked to see film students hanging it in their dorm rooms for years to come.
As an indie film with a low budget, Bernard had no choice but to get creative. Luckily, he does this very well. Utilizing artistic camera angles and innovative narrative techniques, Bernard manages to tell a new story with a classic French New Wave sentiment. He is also not afraid to break the fourth wall in a way that is both aesthetic and witty. A highlight of the short film occurs towards the beginning when Nicholas speaks to Darling (Chloé Lexia Worthington), the first character to offer him a Wet Seal Cigarette. Perhaps an homage to French New Wave Cinema, Darling speaks to Nicholas in French. He seems to understand even though he only speaks English. When confronted about how he can understand her, Nicholas admits that he can read the subtitles. This moment does an excellent job at establishing the surrealistic but creative tone of the film.
“Wet Seal Cigarettes” may not have the flashy budget of a blockbuster movie, but that doesn’t stop Bernard from being a creative storyteller. If you are interested in a rising star and director, Black cinema, the French New Wave or are just looking to spend twenty minutes watching a thought provoking film, “Wet Seal Cigarettes” is definitely worth checking out.