I’ve long held that a short film can be a vehicle for filmmakers to convey more story and drama than they could in a big-budget feature film. Part of it is through knowing and embracing their limitations. In terms of story, this is a Hemingway’s Iceberg moment; a theory of omission that tells the audience what’s going on without dropping exposition in the viewers’ lap.

But like I said, it can be a vehicle. It can convey more story and drama. Yet despite the best intentions of the filmmakers, it can end up falling flat.

Paul Marques Duarte’s Harbor (2018) follows the chance encounter between teacher Adèle (Marie Bunel) and 15-year-old migrant Nassim (N’ Tarila Kouka). On a school trip sailing to England, the disheartened Adèle finds Nassim hiding among her class. Unwilling to turn him over, she pretends he is one of her students, over the protest of the other teacher Romain (Ali Marhyar). As the ferry slowly makes its night journey to England, Adèle worries that Nassim and the whole scheme might be exposed, particularly by one troubling student Elliot (Victor Bonnel).

Right, off the bat, this is an excellently produced, and acted film. The camera work captures the physical isolation of Nassim and the emotional isolation of Adèle. Bunel can bring across the emotional weight of her actions and her disconnect from the students with few words. On that end, it’s okay. The development of the relationship between Adèle and Elliot is organic, despite leading us down the wrong path a couple of times, it doesn’t pull a forced conversion, more of a misunderstanding between the two of them.

But my problem with Harbor, where I feel it falls flat, is with the story of Nassim. It’s hinted, despite the belief of the others, that he does speak French and is too scared to reveal this or reach out to them. That some tragedy in his past has affected him so profoundly that he can’t lower his guard. And you’re thinking “Well that sounds a lot like a good story” and it usually would be except throughout the film it feels like Nassim is going through some form of narrative dehumanisation. He stops being a person; he even stops being a character really and instead becomes a MacGuffin: only something to move the film along and the story between Adèle and Elliot.

Like I said at the start, short films can become powerhouses of drama and story. There is potential in Harbor; there is a sense that this film could have given a human face to such a divisive topic. As it is, it lacks the strength it could have, should have, had.

Dir: Paul Marques Duarte

Scr: Blandine Jet, Paul Marques Duarte

Cast: Marie Bunel, N’Tarila Kouka, Ali Marhyar, Victor Bonnel

Prd: Cedric Courtoux, Thomas Guentch

DOP: Yann Maritaud

Music: Vincent Burlot

Country: France

Runtime: 23 minutes