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Pietro Malegori's Short Film 'Birthday' is a Moving Portrait of Grief

11.3.12 @ 1:28PM Tags : , ,

Cinematography, when executed perfectly, can take a seemingly simple film to an entirely different level. Perfect frames and painterly lighting can transport you to another world. Birthday, directed by Pietro Malegori, uses its cinematography to convey the emotion of its characters, two grieving parents mourning the loss of their child. While we’ve shared films dealing with loss or grieving before, there is something about the way the frames seem to jump out at you like you’re watching a painting that is truly effecting. Click through to check out the short.

Here is the description below the video on Vimeo:

When we lose someone, a part of us dies. The other part hardly comes back.
A man and a woman, once parents are mourning the death of their son. On the day of his birthday.

I feel like I can’t mention the cinematography enough, and not because it detracted from the story in any way, but because it added to the story in my opinion. Many of these still shots could be hanging in a gallery somewhere, in fact, this entire film as a piece could fit well in a gallery setting. The dolly moves in particular pulled me in. Each time the camera got a bit closer to the characters, I leaned in a little more, and paid a little more attention to the faces and the emotions of the two characters.

There is always the opportunity to be heavy handed with these types of films, but even without any dialogue, I was fully engaged in the story. Being able to tell a story without dialogue also means it can mean more to a wider audience. If you don’t have to worry about subtitles and different languages, it lets the universal emotions affect the viewer rather than the delivery of the lines.

Did the cinematography add to your experience of the film? What did you think about the fact that the entire short was without dialogue?



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Description image 33 COMMENTS

  • The cinematography was exquisite and the lighting immaculate.

    Direction and actual story telling was quite run of the mill.

    Works great as a DP reel or exercise.

  • I’d argue that it’s the well excuted production design that takes this film to a different level. The lighting exposes itself one too many times for my taste but definitely above par. Aces for composition.

    • thadon calico on 11.3.12 @ 8:46PM

      concur and this is what most if not all indies and student filmmakers take into consideration

    • israel Perez on 11.4.12 @ 4:26AM

      I agree with you guys; production design makes all the difference. Regarding the video, I personally would have loved see some more darker areas, and of course, a more elaborate story.

    • how do you avoid exposing your lighting?

    • please do expand upon your comment, most interesting. at which marks exactly does “The lighting exposes itself one too many times” ???

  • I was going to say the same thing about the production design. Having just worked on a pretty large project without a dedicated production designer I now realize how much of what we consider “great cinematography” is due to great production design.

  • ThunderBolt on 11.3.12 @ 4:42PM

    Nice visuals, but the story line needed some work. Both actors are a bit old in looking at a child that would have been conceived 10 – 20 years earlier compared to the photo. Parents, grandparents? If these were parents, you could argue that many years had passed since the child’s death, enough time to mourn and to make peace with the situation. If suicide was the answer for the grief, younger parents would have been a more convincible story line. Separation of the couple even if implied needed to have some backfill to explain. All of this could still be achieved without dialog and without compromising story and visual themes.

    • Maybe the parents divorce years earlier triggered their son’s suicide, and they’ve never forgiven themselves for it. That would be something hard to shake for sure. Just speculating.
      I think it’s a beautiful piece of work.

      • ThunderBolt on 11.4.12 @ 11:24AM

        Completely agree, beautiful visuals, especially set design where less is more. Each room and sequence provides just enough to balance figure/ground relationships. Location, objects, walls, texture of bath water, all well thought out. DP executes flawlessly in capturing this.

        You have to wonder, did anyone speak up about the script about continuity of story? If the same scrutiny was placed on story line as the visuals, the conversation about this film would be much different. I believe that most would be unable to pick apart any aspect. As stunning as the visuals are, I would have a hard time using this for promo reel, fearing the same questions posed to me as I mention.

        With technology advancing, entry price point lowering and new channels of distribution emerging, this feels like the new golden age of film making. Network television is on the path that print took in the early ’90′s and it’s just a matter of time before broadcast becomes irrelevant. Without trying to be grandiose, it’s people like us that will change the medium. It’s everyones responsibility to make sure that each and every frame has meaning and impact. If something doesn’t work, speak up, try another sequence and make everyone on the set a hero.

    • I actually got a different message from the story – I wondered the photograph of when the son was when he was younger, and the older gentleman was holding the gun up to his head to try and understand why he had done it? There was something in his expression. The intention was never for him to kill himself I don’t think.

  • The lighting was great and combined with the set design, it was beautiful. I like how the fact that there were no windows made them feel trapped and also separated

  • How can anyone praise this film for foregoing dialogue when the music track is so obviously cutting the same kind of corners that cheap dialogue typically would? Surely this is just as bad if not worse. The images are impressive, but how anyone could call this a good piece of storytelling is beyond me.

    • I think your criticism cuts a little too deep. Maybe you didn’t respond to it, but chucking the whole story out because of the music is pretty dang harsh. I guess some things are beyond all of us…

    • why do you feel the music is cheap? what about it doesn’t sit well for you?

  • Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous…

  • Hits home

  • I agree Joe. Truly beautiful cinematography. And unlike quite a few others, I am not concerned with the simplicity of the story. I think telling any story as beautifully and evocatively as possible is what it’s all about. It’s not a bad story. It’s just a simple one. And that same eye when applied to an exciting script is something I find exciting. For me it’s the difference between why a B horror film like Aliens (simple story) could be what it is, as opposed to if say Michael Bay had directed it.

  • “A man and a woman, once parents are mourning the death of their son. On the day of his birthday.”

    I saw none of that. Beautifully filmed but if that was what the filmmaker intended to say he did not succeed in my opinion.

    I saw it as two senior citizens who were not connected but both having birthdays on the same day. There is nothing worst than to be a senior citizen, living alone and having no one remember your birthday… no one to drop by or even call you on the phone. The cake with one candle meant the old man had to buy his own cake. One candle was used because you can’t get ninety candles on a cake. The young boy was his son who he raised and now has a family of his own. That son didn’t bother to acknowledge his own dad’s birthday. At the end, the father put down the gun and grabbed the phone to get his family in on his celebration. The woman took the other route… and decided to give up. To me, the short piece was how two different people overcome sorrow.

    Maybe the filmmaker should not tell people what he was trying to say but to leave it up to people to interpret on their own. Great job–

  • It was the sound design that made the short for me.

  • could NFS locate and interview Pietro Malegori please? also would be interested in and behind the scenes footage, rigs, lighting tech etc.


  • Amazing lighting, design, and camera movement. Story…meh.

    Very nice to watch!

  • Although a tad thin, understanding how short the film is and taking this into account allows the viewer to admire how much is evoked and accomplished in such a short time. its hard to rip down such well executed cinematography. For anyone saying they wouldnt put this on their reel i’d like to see what they have to leave this out. not the best story but certainly not lacking in visual depth. Not reinventing the wheel but certainly achieving some very professional results. well done.

  • The image is the mainstay of cinema. There can be no dialogue, people, or without sound, but there can be no picture. The short film is sustained by this pillar. A perfect example is the movie “Hukkle” of György Pálfi, where human language is only expressed through song.

  • Laura Daniell on 11.8.12 @ 10:29PM

    I cried.