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Jaq is accompanying her sister Claire to a hospital. Claire has endometriosis, a widespread but poorly understood tissue disorder that affects women’s reproductive systems, causing immense pain, heavy bleeding and painful sex. Claire’s condition is so painful that she needs to have her uterus removed, but she wants to keep her ovaries in hopes that she can have a biological child in some way in the future.
Jaq, too, has endometriosis, though it’s not as advanced as Claire’s yet. In some ways, Jaq is defiant about her endo and doesn’t want to let it affect her life. She dates and has sex like any modern woman in London, but she hides her condition and refuses to talk much or even acknowledge it. But even Jaq can’t escape the very messy reality of her condition, and her inability to talk openly about it sabotages a promising relationship and satisfying sex life. But when Claire’s surgery takes a sad turn, Jaq realizes that she must learn to talk about it with openness.
Quirky, bold and remarkably expansive, this short comedy — written by Elaine Gracie, directed by Alice Seabright and produced by Alexandra Blue and Kate Phibbs — is both one woman’s journey into accepting a difficult reality and a deep dive into a poorly understood condition that affects millions of women. These women often suffer silently with the myriad ways it can debilitate normal life. With playfulness in the aesthetic approach and a grounding in emotional and physical reality, it captures their experience in an accessible, creatively accomplished way.
The visual approach and storytelling of the film are fun-loving and even whimsical, starting with its central visual image of a woman’s reproductive system, recreated with food. The film returns to this image as Jaq’s story progresses, with parts of the tableau deteriorating as her biology flares up and rebels against her, shifting into the realm of the surreal. Even the brighter, punchy lighting gets dimmer and more muted as Jaq is forced to reckon with how her endometriosis affects her life.
The tone of the film is a complex one, and in many ways is its creative high-wire act. The humor is often dry and tongue-in-cheek, with impishly cheerful dialogue about serious, sometimes devastating realities. The pacing and structure, too, have an unusual complexity for a short film, as it zigzags between past and present at an almost frolicsome pace. As it moves along, the writing weaves in facts about endometriosis, and brings to life how endo concretely affects the lived reality of many women, with its inconvenient bleeding, immense pain and the medical establishment’s indifference and sometimes condescending attitude towards it.
“End-o” accomplishes two things in its storytelling: it tells a compelling tale with visual panache, and it educates viewers about an under-researched and little-understood condition that affects millions of women’s lives, bring something shrouded in silence into the open. It would be easy to go into “movie of the week” territory at times, but the film’s bold creative choices and the nimble, grounded lead performances by Sophie Di Martino as Jaq and Lisa Jackson as Claire put a human face and emotions onto the factoids, helping viewers empathize as they confront pain, embarrassment and even infertility. More must be done to understand something that impacts so many women, but as Jaq comes to learn, much of it begins with a willingness to be open and speak up about it and shed the shame that makes the suffering so much worse.
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A woman wants to have sex. But her body sabotages her in the worst way. | End-O
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