Jimmy Olsson’s latest short, “Notes,” is the cathartic relationship movie you didn’t know you needed.
One of the most difficult parts of living alone is the silence. If it weren’t for FaceTime lunches with friends, work calls, and daily conversations with my cat, there might be days where I didn’t even hear the sound of my own voice. When my TV is off, my phone stops buzzing and there’s no sounds coming from outside, there’s this brief terrifying moment where I wonder if everyone else on Earth has disappeared. Even if I break the silence by talking to myself, it feels like I’m just sending my voice out into an empty void where no one will ever hear it. Writer/ director Jimmy Olsson captures this kind of loneliness in his short film, Notes, in which he offers a hopeful answer to the question that appears on the poster, “how can you speak when you have no one to talk to?” In Notes, a man moves into a temporary apartment after his bathroom floods, where he proceeds to work on a song he’s composing for his girlfriend’s birthday. He’s a little rusty on the keyboard and can’t quite find the right notes, but his neighbor chimes in through the wall to help him out.
Notes is a rich, beautifully crafted short drama that tells a universal, cathartic story. Although the plot is simple, the film is packed with subtle details that create a dynamic and satisfactory emotional experience. Olsson sets the stage with a romantic visual style defined by a grainy texture and natural lighting. He tells the story with a minimalist script and set design, which makes it feel like we’re just watching a man go about his daily life rather than watching an artful film. Notes feels comfortable and welcoming, making it easy for us to relate to the man and understand his emotional ups and downs. Olsson takes advantage of every second of his 20-minute short, ensuring that every shot serves a purpose.
It’s not easy to create a complex character in 20 minutes. Short film characters often feel more like underdeveloped sketches than real people. However, even though we don’t know a lot about the man in Notes, he still comes across as dynamic and realistic. Olsson includes plenty of intriguing hints about the man’s personality and backstory, including his tattoos, the way he uses emojis when he texts his girlfriend, and his inability to iron a shirt. Unlike other hopeless romantic male leads, this man isn’t polished and perfect, and he’s certainly not the world’s greatest musician. It’s a lot easier for us to relate to a man who stumbles his way through a piano piece with rough technique than to a musical prodigy. The protagonist of Notes is an exciting fresh take on the typical romantic drama lead.
Any film about music needs a good sound design, and Notes certainly delivers in that department. It’s the kind of movie where you notice every little sound effect, and the presence or absence of sound sets the tone for each scene. Throughout the film, Olsson highlights the noises of everyday life, such as running water and jangling keys, to illustrate the man’s solitude. In fact, all the technical aspects of Notes work together to create a palpable sense of loneliness. As the camera moves around the man’s apartment like a pair of eyes, it creates the sense of an elusive presence that’s watching the man and waiting for the right moment to reach out to him. The cinematography foreshadows the fact that there is someone waiting on the other side of the apartment wall to break the spell of loneliness, but the man just hasn’t met him yet. Olsson successfully uses cinematic storytelling techniques to illustrate isolation and loneliness, building tension and suspense as the man communicates with the mysterious person on the other side of the wall through music.
With so little time to develop characters and a plot, it’s difficult to keep a narrative short film balanced. But Olsson succeeds, telling a story that is emotionally impactful and sincere. By the time Notes comes to an end, we’re fully invested in the man and his emotions, despite knowing only a few details about his life. As the man reaches out to his neighbor with flawed but impassioned piano playing, we’re reminded of our own need to find someone who will listen, and how difficult it can be to reach out and do so. Notes builds and releases tension beautifully, communicating with its audience more deeply than words alone ever could.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."