The Neighbors' Window won the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action) this year.
The Neighbors' Window cast: Maria Dizzia, Greg Keller, Juliana Canfield
The Neighbors' Window director: Marshall Curry
The Neighbors' Window rating: 4 stars
The line between cinema and voyeurism is often blurred. The camera sees and chronicles things that the naked eye ignores, or maybe chooses to deny. This year’s winner of the best short film in the Live Action category at the Oscars, The Neighbors' Window, is a 20-minute life lesson on why we should count our blessings. And as the name suggests, we do it while we peep into the neighbour’s window. Think Rear Window, but less thriller-ish. Set in New York, we are taken into the lives of Alli and her husband, a middle-aged couple expecting their third child. One such evening, after Alli has picked up all the toys, she sighs and joins her wine-guzzling husband, as they chance upon the apartment across the street. The new occupants, a couple, are busy ‘christening’ the apartment in the Biblical tradition. They both watch, fascinated, twisting their heads to follow the action. It brings strong flashbacks of the ‘Ugly Naked Guy’ gag from the TV show Friends, and how the six friends huddled together in Monica’s apartment to watch an ugly naked guy across the street.
Time progresses, Alli has delivered the baby, and is now dealing with pooping kids, winter and her changing body, all this while being angry at her husband.“I am not 22, and I am tired all the time,” she whines. The couple across the street is a looming presence, and even though we don’t see them up close, their shenanigans are very much part of the narrative. “They are like a crash car you can’t look away from. Okay, a beautiful sexy car crash,” admits Alli. A pair of binoculars is always handy, and Alli just can’t seem to get enough of the couple across the street. Dance parties and brunches and late nights of the couple are juxtaposed by Alli feeding her baby, roaming around in a dressing gown, and just trying to make sense of it all. But then something happens, and the distance between the two buildings is bridged. We end up meeting the couple, just, maybe, not in the way we wanted.
Written and directed by Marshall Curry, the film is based on a true story by Diane Weipert. And while many details are missing from the film, like we don’t know what Alli does, or what her husband’s name is, it doesn’t really matter. We watch enchanted, just like Alli.
Windows and voyeurism have always lent themselves beautifully as tools for cinematic brilliance. We had Peeping Tom in 1960, which explored that very phenomena, and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Rear Window, which inspired generations of filmmakers. Closer home, we had Padosan (1968) and the antics of love that revolved around a window. Mere saamne waali khidki main is an anthem till date for lovelorn people who sigh wistfully while looking through a window. In The Neighbors' Window as well, we are just shown glimpses of the other apartment, but it’s the lure of the unknown that makes it the promised land.
The film comments on youth, fading desire and how we fall prey to the monotony of everyday life. But it also makes you want to hold onto the people who matter, very very tightly, for life as we know it can be fleeting at best. That’s why The Neighbors' Window is a must watch, because it makes a very valid point without the melodrama. Sure it is highly emotional, but its brevity makes the life lesson on point.