June Butler explores Kamila Dydyna’s short film Debutante.
One of the most powerful short films I have seen in some time, Debutante is a moving tribute to the vision and dedication of writer, director, and producer, Kamila Dydyna. With heartrending and touchingly believable performances from both lead roles, Meg (Una O Brien) and Sam (Richard Neville), it tells the story of a young couple balancing personal happiness when their feelings are set in opposition to their religious beliefs.
The tale centres around 18-year-old Meg and her love for Sam, a fellow Jehovah’s Witness. Meg’s father, played by Gary Mullan has a small but significant part to play in opening scenes of the film as he approaches Meg to tell her he loves her. It becomes apparent that Meg’s father has been disfellowshipped – which means he can no longer converse or associate with his wife or child, both of whom remain connected to the religion.
In later scenes, Meg is called before a meeting of Church elders to clarify a supposed liaison with Sam. It holds a mirror to the treatment of Sam who seems to have escaped the prurient attentions of the same elders. Meg is asked to describe her actions in excruciating detail and debase herself in front of three middle aged men while Sam’s fate is left undecided – although the subtext appears to suggest he will receive a far lighter sentence.
Dydyna’s short film flows effortlessly through the defiantly proud stance of Meg in the face of Sam’s initial tenderness. Her directorial touch is deft and audiences are moved to care about the denouement. It takes a certain amount of skill to render the characters with such authentic traits in so short a time. I felt a mixture of outrage, indignation and sadness for a young woman pitted against a behemoth of such unfeeling intensity. Debutante shows how female innocence and compassion can be monstrously misshaped in order to reflect a defining mark of dishonour. It is particularly reprehensible when it becomes apparent that the sin is held against a woman and not, it appears, her male partner in crime. If such a crime was committed.
Dydyna’s ultimate message in the wonderful Debutante, is that guilt, humiliation, and relentless, Draconian punishment becomes the lot of those who love unconditionally.
Debutante screens at the Chicago Irish Film Festival (3-6 March 2022) & Achill Island Film Festival (20-22 May 2022).