Review: The Bitch (2020)

Courtesy of Ville Niemi

A rural landscape, a muscle car and some instrumental retro-sounding guitar music on the radio suggest that the duo of woodsmen brothers is really enjoying this 20th century type of pastoral. However, the things are about to take a sharp turn towards a significantly darker realm in Ville Niemi’s student short film The Bitch that competed at this year’s edition of Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival.

The idyll the brothers, the seemingly level-headed Markus (Jussi Lankoski) and the boozing Aleksi (Joel Hirvonen) is interrupted by the third brother, the sensitive Johannes (Benjamin Klemettinen) who asks the question if they have found Hanna. The news on the radio revolves around the case of a missing girl: the hunters are still looking for her for the fourth day in a row. Also, Markus seems to be especially fond of a certain dog…

Starting with the brief series of flashbacks that suggest that the brothers could have something to do with it (at least they knew the girl), Niemi adopts a frenzy-like time-hopping structure that convolutes and stirs the plot more and more. The end result is that even the most malevolent viewer is going to get and stay intrigued and curious about the story up until the very end. Given that The Bitch is dark and unpleasant theme-, environment- and design-wise, that is quite an achievement.

Regarding the aesthetics and the craft involved, The Bitch is a little marvel of feel-bad cinema. The cinematography by Miika Ekström done in a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio and the shades-of-grey-type black and white works as a nod to the low-budget aspect of the American backwoods noirs from the 70s, and does not feel forced at all: Ekström and Niemi just use more pop-cultural ties between the rural America and the rural Finland in the less obvious way. Having that in mind, the country-sounding instrumental guitar music (actually, it is still rautalanka) fits the area and the environment perfectly, while contrasting the mood. Probably the biggest job on the film was in the editing room, where Ville and Olli Niemi had to find the right balance between the effects of confusion, shock, (late) revelation and just enough of the sense of clarity.

Really, The Bitch is something extra-ordinary.

Original title: Narttu
Year: 2020
Runtime: 18’ 53’’
Countries: Finland, Estonia
Language: Finnish
Directed by: Ville Niemi
Written by: Ville Niemi
Cast: Benjamin Klemettinen, Joel Hirvonen, Jussi Lankoski, Fikrete Miftari, Antero Raanoja, Kirsi Poutanen (voice), Mila (dog)
Cinematography by: Miika Ekström
Editing by: Ville Niemi, Olli Niemi
Music by: Ville Holmström
Sound design by: PJ Shulsky
Sound recording by: PJ Shulsky
Production design by: Ville Niemi
Costume design by: Ella Puoliväli, Triin Kolmkant, Juuta Tuunanen
Make-up by: Ella Pouliväli, Stefani Livravi
Colourist: Miika Ekström
Produced by; Miika Ekström, Ville Niemi
Production companies: BFM, Good Boi Films