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War, time travel and a broken walkman are the backdrop to this science-fiction love story

10 – 15 | 2012 | Live-Action | Sci-Fi | Time Travel | USA

A man cries while listening an old tape, we hear the voice of a woman talking about how she spent her day. Suddenly the walkman breaks, and our protagonist decides to fix it by using pieces taken from an old NASA kit. When he goes back to listening to the cassette, it’ll literally take him inside his memories. We’re now in Bosnia, in the early nineties. The woman whose voice we heard is just recording the message, completely unaware of the danger that’s looming over her, and the man will engage in a race against time to save her.

Record/Play is yet another film to adhere to the current trend in certain sci-fi of using devices and objects from an analog past, although here the use of the walkman is not a mere stylistic or aesthetic choice, being diegetically justified. Time Travel is not new to the genre, as there’s many films that see their characters get lost in time to change the course of history, but director Jesse Atlas managed to infuse new life in this trope.
The choice of using a cassette recorder is pretty innovative: just like our character is travelling through time, the tape itself brings time forward and backwards, in a potentially endless loop. The physicality of analog recording draws a parallel to the one felt on the man’s skin, whose body is frequently wounded through the temporal fluctuations.

The intimacy and the sentimental value of this adventure are something new as well. Great events of the past are usually the starting point of time-travel stories, but the History of humanity is only here as a backdrop, he’s not going back to stop the Bosnian war, his only interest is to save the woman he loves. Anyway the real strength of this short is the absolute simplicity of the story. It’s of course the medium itself that imposes to cut down digressions and long explanations, but the cleanliness of this narrative, maintained despite the constant time shifts, is exemplary. We don’t know much about the two lovers, or how this ‘magic walkman’ works, but it doesn’t matter. Direction and writing are so strong that they manage to fully convey the viewer’s attention and identification towards the protagonist. The dark tones of the great cinematography and the dramatic score are the final touches to a truly intriguing piece of work.

Record/Play was presented at Sundance 2013, won many awards throughout the festival circuit and was in the shortlist for this year’s Oscars. Focus Features also recently announced that they’re developing a feature film based on the short, that’s going to be written and directed by Jesse Atlas himself.

Flavia Ferrucci

Flavia Ferrucci

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