Little Jar – Paris International Film Festival 2023 – Film Review

Life Before-Covid (colloquially known as BC) is not a distant memory for many but evoking the uncertainty of the subsequent pandemic complete with those mixed emotions, on film, embedded within memories of the first lockdown may seem a tad premature and ultimately bittersweet. In Little Jar, however, the focus rests on that period from the first lockdown announcement as seen through the eyes of misanthrope Ainsley (Kelsey Gunn) amidst global uncertainty. Uniquely, the film provides that insight of an introvert’s microcosm for whom moments of enforced isolation, during the Covid pandemic, might have initially seemed like a nirvana. Little Jar provides that sensitive depiction of Ainsley’s inner world fraught with anxiety, during this time, thus creating that resonance and a thought-provoking exploration of the lives of others. Her only comfort arrives in creating a form of connection via the contents found within a little jar.

Director Dominic López has simultaneously conjured up an acute assessment of the delicate nature of mental health balanced with heartfelt, humorously nuanced scenes whilst examining situations that unfolded during the lockdowns. It is this combination that audiences have no doubt identified with as Little Jar was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Paris International Film Festival alongside collecting Best Actor, Best Director and Best Writer awards at the festival.

Little Jar operates as a simple but charming and whimsical tale, on the surface, whilst intricately examining the impact of Ainsley’s sought after claustrophobia. That sense of isolation is amplified as the majority of the action occurs indoors either at the office or within her barricaded home. However, there are added complexities carefully crafted by López despite Ainsley’s needs being met – she lives alone during the pandemic and her loneliness is therefore apparent to everyone but herself. López provides an intimate immersion within Ainsley’s new found life. Her joy at avoiding all forms of human interaction may be understandable, given the irritating scenes with her colleagues Before Covid, but López’s tender direction allows the percolation of Ainsley’s commitment to the life of a recluse, thus identifying just how easy it is to withdraw from society.

Kelsey Gunn as Ainsley in Little Jar
Kelsey Gunn as Ainsley in Little Jar

Gunn’s portrayal of Ainsley is compelling to watch as she easily flits between expressing anxiety to appreciating elements of her Before Covid life. Gunn’s delightful performance is both mesmerising and entertaining and with many scenes highlighting her emotional range, she effortlessly carries the weight of the film. It is equally heart-warming to watch the positive interaction unfold between Ainsley and a delivery person, who, for many, represented the only form of contact during the first restrictive lockdown. Little Jar’s subtle exploration of the formation of a fledgling friendship between Ainsley and Nicholas Anthony Reid’s delivery person is an endearing touch. There are echoes of the innate human need for connection, within such scenes, accentuated by the captivating chemistry between Gunn and Reid which feels natural. Little Jar’s appeal thus lies in its ability to transcend a basic framework to encourage more compassion towards those subject to anxiety.

Little Jar is not strictly a pandemic film but filming during lockdowns has obviously provided inspiration for the film. Gunn easily convinces as the anxious Ainsley and her expressive pandemic routines, such as the need to Marie Kondo her living space, will seem familiar. Gunn’s excellent performance of Ainsley’s insular environment assists the audience to suspend its disbelief where the film conveys imaginative connections with the little jar, with skilful editing from López, which adds to its charm. The film’s message, concerning mental health, is therefore universal and provokes that self-reflection of the coping strategies employed during the socially distanced era. Little Jar may therefore seem on the nose but, at its heart, is an emphasis on being aware of others’ needs and limitations and ultimately to be present in our surroundings.

Nicholas Anthony Reid in Little Jar
Nicholas Anthony Reid in Little Jar

Overall, Little Jar is a heartfelt feature debut demonstrating the casual way in which the necessity of daily social interactions is taken for granted. The film emphasises the power and richness of such small interactions and the degree of freedom they provide.

Little Jar’s power lies in emphasising altruism with its acute, but comedic, portrayal of loneliness as an adult. Its impressive editing and empathetic feel provide that platform to encourage us to look around and be more neighbourly, which can only be a positive.

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