Dorlis

Absolutely excellent. Outstanding short film.

A dorlis is like an incubus, a evil spirit which enters homes at night and commits sexual attacks upon the inhabitants. Dorlis the film is like a kitchen sink drama, but also a horror movie. Which for women is often the same thing, as the place we are least safe is sometimes our own homes.

The film follows Nora, as she, her mother and sister go to look after her grandfather after a stroke. The first scene is so good at laying out the family dynamic. Nora is having her hair brushed by her mother Laure. Her mother is rough, braiding tightly, yanking on the hair with the brush and her fingers. As Nora’s head is pulled back and forth, she remains silent and stoic, clearly used to the rough treatment, and knowing any complaint will make no difference. Her attention instead is focused on her younger sister Melissa, who is still a little girl, and is watching in fear, knowing she will be next under her mother’s hairbrush. When Melissa’s turn comes, and she shrinks from her mother’s hairbrush, her mum says, “Are you a big girl or not?” Nora then volunteers to finish brushing Melissa’s hair to let her mum get on, and starts to do her sister’s hair gently.

In one simple scene, all the characters and their relationships to one another are established. It’s so identifiable, and domestic, an everyday repetitious chore so familiar it could be overlooked as mechanical, but which the filmmaker imbues with deep and fundamental messages about empathy, bonding, shaming, and silence. It’s clear Nora has internalised the message from her mother – no one gives a fuck how you feel, just be obedient. But she is protective and nurturing of her younger sister.

When the sisters are taken to see their grandfather, from the instant you see Nora’s reaction to him, you know something’s off. He’s been at her.

Laure’s brother is also there with his family, as they get the grandfather situated back at home. The stroke has left him unable to speak or walk unaided. At dinner, Nora’s uncle toasts her grandfather, speaking of him in the warmest and most well-respected terms, of his hard work and sacrifice to his family, of their gratitude for his devotion, while Nora stares at her grandfather in silence. He then announces that Laure will be staying to look after him.

Of course she is. Not that she volunteered. Or even agreed. But you know, both of them have jobs, both of them have children, so of course it makes the most sense if his daughter looks after him, and his son fucks off. Laure even points out that she’s a single parent, while if he stayed, he would be able to share the workload with his wife. He slaps her down, and shames her for shirking her duties.

Laure’s an interesting character. Because on one level you just despise her. She gives no fucks about how her kids feel. She is completely blind to the trauma Nora is experiencing being under the same roof as her grandfather. She frequently dumps her responsibility as a parent onto Nora, leaving her to look after her sister, or her grandfather, or both. And it’s Nora’s denial about her own needs, her sacrifices, that are keeping the family going, functioning. Her watchful eye over her sister, and determination to shield her from harm, makes it feel like she is the parent, not Laure.

And yet from the interaction you see between Laure and her brother, her obvious struggle to balance her financial responsibility to work with her domestic responsibility to care, you see that she is on her own, overwhelmed, and juggling so many demands on her energy. Would she actually be a better mother if she wasn’t exhausted, broke, and constantly worried? And it’s clear that if she asks for help, or expresses need for support, she is shamed, put on a guilt trip, and silenced. Something she is passing down onto her own daughters. She is dealing with the impacts of patriarchy just as Nora is.

Melissa is told by one of her cousins that their grandfather must have got a fright to have caused his stroke. Perhaps he saw a demon or devil up in the trees by the house. Maybe a dorlis.

Unable to speak about her experiences, or explain to Melissa why she is so protective of her in their grandfather’s house, Nora adopts the story of the dorlis. She uses it to convey her sense of dread, horror and fear.

Honestly I could go on for ages about how densely packed and rich this 25 minute film is. Excellent actors give intense performances, and the director captures nuance and emotion skillfully. Really excellent short.

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