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With: Van Gordon, Jayne Entwistle, Veronica Murphy, Ellen Stewart, Diana Newington, Jimmy Santos, Julie Tidball, Kelly Flynn, Roy Dohring, Jack Heinsius, Jerry Day, Sandy Palhegyi, Steve Palhegyi, Mitchell L. Ford, Harry Bruce
Written by: Steven J. Warner
Directed by: Steven J. Warner
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 22
Date: 11/08/2013

Jasmine (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Broken Blossoms

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the grand tradition of Marty (1955), as well as this year's Gloria, comes Steven J. Warner's lovely, tender short film Jasmine. It's a film that asserts that ordinary people, too, and not just movie stars, have a shot at love.

Van Gordon plays Duane, a lonely janitor at a lonely hospital. He's almost like a shadow, cleaning and emptying trash without anyone noticing him. He has an aunt, Lola (Ellen Stewart), who also works at the hospital and likes to invite him to dinner. Even then, Duane does not talk much. His aunt talking endlessly about Duane's lost parents, the dinner seems generous, but perhaps also painful.

Lola keeps nudging Duane to find himself a girlfriend. In a terrific scene, Duane glimpses Jasmine (Jayne Entwistle), who is checked into the hospital for unknown psychological issues, through a window. He's indoors, and she's outdoors, in a garden, sadly regarding the flowers. He's drawn to her; it's as if there's nothing really wrong with her, and perhaps they simply share the same kind of loneliness.

Jasmine does not end with kisses or wedding bells, but it does end with a bit of hope. Duane is not George Clooney, and he does not have a way with the ladies. He tries the best he knows how, and it may be clumsy or ill-timed, but anyone with a heart will find the attempt touching.

The performances are the high point. They are exemplary, worthy of any big-budget production. Mr. Gordon has been mainly a stage actor, and was apparently retired when Warner called on him for this film. It was the right choice. He expresses so much with so few words. He can appear to be thinking about literally nothing, but his eyes are genuinely warm, and yet he conveys a sense of masculine slowness, of reluctance, but also strength.

Ms. Entwistle ("Desperate Housewives," American Heart) equals him. She hasn't been made to look like an adorable movie mental patient; her Jasmine has been genuinely broken somehow. She's fragile and guarded and reluctant, and she holds her whole body that way. But she has such a dear, open face, and her eyes -- like Duane's -- reach out with a little bit of longing.

Warner presents his film in a kind of high-contrast black-and-white, well-lit, but not luminous. It emphasizes the hard, cavernous hospital halls and stark rooms, placing our soft characters in that context, as well as other organic objects, such as an apple or flowers. When Duane first approaches Jasmine, a woman sits in the center of the frame, working a jigsaw puzzle. She grows agitated and sweeps part of the puzzle away, leaving some scattered pieces behind to beautifully underline Duane and Jasmine's moment together.

I have had the pleasure to watch Warner (White-Collar Crime, Promises, The Brothers) grow as a filmmaker, attempting the kinds of things that maybe only John Cassavetes once did: highly personal films about human beings, rather than gimmicks or concepts. It's very difficult to make movies that are so deeply heartfelt without seeming cloying or calculating, but Jasmine is the real thing.

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