Guiliano Saade’s short film Empty is almost a one-act play; it takes place in one setting, in almost unedited time, with only four characters. In the story, a drunken, broke guy named Chico won’t leave the bar operated by the owner, Mr. Nelson, who only wants to go home to sleep. After enough shots of liquor to down a rhino, Chico leaves, but then he immediately returns. He can’t go home; he claims that there’s nothing out there past the bar. Mr. Nelson is incredulous and assumes Chico just want to finish off the bottle. They fight, and Mr. Nelson injured, perhaps mortally. Chico continues to hide out, even as a woman seeks help and there seems to be a shootout down the street. Empty never lets us leave the bar, so we can’t actually know what’s outside.
The film’s most interesting structural element is the way it keeps to the interior of the bar. Because we are limited to one narrow room, our perspective of the situation becomes increasingly paranoid and muddled. With the exception of one gruesome death, most of the action takes place outside. We can hear but not see what’s going on. It leaves us unsure: Is there still an outside? Who’s being shot? Is it mass chaos? Linked as we are to Chico’s point of view, we never know for sure. The story makes it seem like that emptiness is just an absence of light from a burnt-out streetlamp, but maybe he’s right and the world no longer exists. The eerie, dim fluorescent lights of the bar only serve to emphasize Chico’s paranoia. The entire world of the film looks like it’s out to get him.
Stories that are so essentially framed in one time and one place usually work by expanding characters and making them dynamic. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with Empty and is, in fact, its most problematic element. We aren’t able to really care about Chico because we know nothing about him; in this way, his arc never really becomes interesting. Less like a story and more like a series of irregular events, Chico’s tale makes it hard to connect with him, even though we share his physical point of view.