Whether you are staggering through the chocolate wrapper detritus of Valentine’s Day or reeking like a yack-stained shut-in thanks to the polar vortex, this short film will bring some relief with its simple declarations and hopes. Alexander Carson’s “We Refuse to be Cold” tells the story of one man who navigates winter and his relationship looking for something he can promise that will get them through.
The film is a narrative collage of documentary pieces collected under a voice-over narrative that explores what, given a Montreal winter and the impermanence of the world, two people might promise to one another to weather it all. He and his girlfriend come up with the simple yet complicated promise that they will refuse to be cold and will attempt to keep one another warm. “So love was warmth that winter. And following the line of so many Montrealers before us, we started scheming on ways to get it, to keep it, to make it.”
The film opens with two men in a heated argument, the one giving advice to the other which might be about sports or love. “I don’t want to talk about this, I thought we were talking about baseball” retorts the one man. The dialogue between the two men, like the advice from the narrator’s father when he returns home for Christmas is heavy with cliché and empty of meaning: “Sticky wicket.” “Adjust your rudder.”
Carson’s narrator follows various ship phrases for navigating relationships (apologies for extending the metaphor) with a picture of an actual ship. The metaphor swallows the language, effectively sinking. This ship-y metaphor and the truisms it tries to transport serve to emphasize the empty impotence of language when it comes to understanding romance.
In contrast to this failure of advice and metaphor, Amanda and Alex share with us and each other a love story of confusing snow suits, do-it-yourself haircuts, and found objects. With them, the amorous is specific and the specific is something you can hang your heart on. This becomes an allegory for making real instead of fairy tale promises to survive winter and the vagaries of relationships. And in the end, failing all else, there is the consolation from one of the actors in that the play within the film that although they might not have entirely succeeded at keeping warm, theirs is “a very acceptable failure.”
This is a visual tale that requires the bare honesty and intimacy of the first person voice-over narrator, similar to spoken word video pieces like the collaboration between Andrea Dorfman and Tanya Davis “How To Be Alone” (two other Canadians familiar with winter) which made an extended tour of the internet and resurfaced for Valentine’s Day.
Both narratives work because they find that fine combination of soft underbelly, alluring particulars, and acute observation.
Alexander Carson is a Toronto filmmaker and a founding member of the North Country Cinema Media Arts Collective, a director-driven organization based in Calgary, Alberta. He has directed six short films.
— R. W. Gray