Up On the Roof delivers a rough and tumble slice of life narrative with striking visuals.
This week publicists for up and coming director Nour Wazzi reached out to us at Deluxe Video to see if we wanted to screen her upcoming short film. Since that short won’t premier until later this month, we decided to cover Nour Wazzi’s body of films. 2013’s Up On the Roof stuck out in particular.
Up On the Roof (2013)
Marcus (Michael Matias) escapes the dangers of his daily life in a rough UK neighborhood by retreating to a ramshackle hideout he’s constructed on the roof of a derelict building. When his crush, Trish (Maisie Williams) uses the hideout to dodge her abusive boyfriend, Marcus grapples with the danger and opportunity caused by her presence.
No Kid Gloves.
Wazzi drops us right into a rough situation, adroitly letting the camera fill in the blanks. Up On the Roof impressed me right away with this approach. A keen eye for telling details allows you to get up to speed without any hand-holding. Indeed, the film strikes you with its no-nonsense sensibility right off the bat.
A story about puppy-dog love and children in an impoverished environment often tempts storytellers into sentimentality. Not here. This story is all brass tacks and tough choices, unvarnished. From the visuals, setting, dialogue, and structure, we get a look into a watershed moment for our protagonist without much mythologizing. The direction and acting help ground the story excellently.
I love the camera work in Up On the Roof. Wide establishing shots on the roof of the city skyline are sere but strikingly beautiful. It has the same sunlit, sere, and gold-tinged aesthetic of Neill Blomkap’s films, teasing an unearthly beauty out of the tawdry.
The wide shots on the roof juxtapose nicely with the street level shots, where the focus narrows and presses in with the claustrophobia of the squalor, desperation, and danger of the city. Later, we get a shot of Marcus leaving the city via the old train trestle: the trestle acting as a proscenium arch where the initial narrow focus widens out to the promise of a new beginning.
The Kids are Alright.
A smart script and clinical camera style means we rely on our young cast to carry a lot of the load, and they perform admirably. Maisie Williams has certainly earned her accolades and shown her acting chops by now, but this short was only her third acting project. At sixteen, she demonstrated that she was the real deal. Michael Mattias, with only three roles to his name, actually impressed me a little more.
Both rolls have to thread the needle of mature plot elements, but not quite mature characters. The actors do a great job of letting childish inflections to their actions and words sneak into the film, even though the characters are forced into adult situations. Marcus feels suitably like a pre-teen play acting as an adult to win Trish’s attention. Trish is at the other end of that transition: she’s had to sell away so much childish innocence to survive, the roof is where she can let her defenses slip, if only just a little. Both actors do an excellent job.
I really enjoyed Up On the Roof. As an introduction to Nour Wazzi’s skill behind the camera, it’s a fantastic starting point. On its own merits, this short film gets high marks. Despite looking for weak points, I didn’t really find any. The tough material may be a sticking point for some audiences, but its so deftly handled that I’d recommend leaning into the discomfort. The experience is worth it.