A Spot for Frog directed by Evan Bode and The Chosen One directed by Elazar Fine, may at first seem like two short films that have nothing in common. Look at the difference between the protagonists alone; one is a non-binary teenager and the other is an adult Hasidic man. However, upon closer viewing, both films grapple with the age-old question of identity, and consider if we ever truly find a place to call our own.
When the viewer first meets both protagonists, the characters have a component on their head that distinguishes them. For Frog from A Spot for Frog, it’s a green knitted hat of the animal that shares a name with the titular person. For Eli Eisenstein from The Chosen One, it’s the lack of the traditional sidelocks and beard that are worn by Hasidic men. As these items relate to their similar internal struggles, it further allows for the viewer to get inside of both of the characters' respective metaphorical heads, as we join them on their journey towards a safe haven.
Throughout the history of teenage film, the lunchroom has routinely been a marker of the high school hierarchical social classes, involving harrowing events from bullying to flash mobs. Therefore, it is no wonder that Frog normally seeks refuge in the art room during the lunch period. However, when Frog is locked out, the fears and pressures that weigh down high school hallways come crashing down onto Frog. A Spot for Frog feels like a movie that was meant for now, with mental health and gender identity being vital to today’s conversations, the character of Frog being a non-binary teen struggling with anxiety is a figure that younger audiences can relate to in modern society. The film is a “hybrid of live action and animation” as “imagination blurs with reality” and illustrates the ubiquitous nature of art inside of Frog’s mind. It shows the artistic nature of Frog while simultaneously providing the audience with a view of the world similar to how Frog sees it. Additionally, the use of mixed media could be viewed as bolstering Frog’s place outside of the typical binary norms. This is portrayed to a greater extent through the color scheme of A Spot for Frog. The hues of pink, blue, and green are repeated throughout the film, with pink and blue representing the conflict and limitations relating to the stereotypical gender binary. The green is associated with Frog and portrays how they choose their own path separate from the feuding colors. Eventually, the anxious hunt for a spot leads Frog outside of the confinement of the high school and its traditional restraints, a perfect place of peace for Frog.
The Chosen One follows Eli Eisenstein as he wanders between two extreme dwellings - his Hasidic familial home and the modern abode of his ex-religious aunt. The act of shaving off his beard and sidelocks is what leads Eli to his aunt’s home, but her apartment is composed of items like TV and pictures of immodest women. These factors create a sort of anxiety inside of Eli, with the sound of a screeching violin heightening the feeling for the spectator, until Eli can no longer take it and flees. While on a chase, Eli passes through a group of Hasidic men and finds himself transformed on the other side back into traditional clothes with his sidelocks and beard once again fully grown. He sees the reflection of his new - or is it old? - self in a shattered mirror, with the cracks distorting Eli’s face, symbolizing how his identity is distorted inside his mind as well. The group of Hasidic men begin to chase and berate Eli, representing the voices inside his head that haunt his every waking thought. As Eli comes to wash the blood literally and figuratively off his hands, he learns that impulsive transformations cannot give him refuge from the internal battle that rages inside his brain. The pacing and camerawork convey a sense of suspense that leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat throughout Eli’s journey, while highlighting the raging turmoil that courses throughout Eli’s head.
As both Frog and Eli look directly into the camera, the audience is left wondering about our own identities and where we truly fit in. Perhaps it is in a dark theater watching these visually exciting films.
A Spot for Frog & The Chosen One screen as part of Shorts Program #1 at the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 2. The film will be Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 7 PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Tickets are available for purchase here. The Chosen One Director Elazar Fine will be at this screening along with a few of the other filmmakers to do a Q+A session with the audience after the show.