Filipe Melo’s The Lone Wolf feels like the slow build of a rollercoaster. When the central conflict is revealed, you can almost hear the click-click-click before the car takes its fear-inducing, treacherous descent.
Vitor Lobo walks into his late night radio show like any other night. Listeners call in to contribute to the topic of emotions and how we can maturely harness them, but things take a dark turn when a man from Vitor’s past calls in with a shocking accusation. Melo’s film raises questions of celebrity worship, cancel culture, and responsibility, and it’s one of the best films on this year’s Live Action Short Film shortlist.
(Warning: this interview contains spoilers to The Lone Wolf. The film is included below, so, please, watch the film and then scroll back up to read the conversation.)
Melo wanted to explore the mystery of an accusation. Once you say something out loud, you cannot take it back, and then it burrows into the minds of those who heard it. On a technical level, Melo wanted to stretch himself to make his film look as sleek as possible while shooting the film in one take.
“It’s really about somebody who may or may not have done something horrible,” Melo said. “I was struggling with the closed ending, because there is really only one person who knows what happened. He is the only person who could say the truth, and he doesn’t. It is something that I have seen people discussing. Films like that get their own life. I wanted to reflect on the notion that if someone does something horrible, does that person go on living. You have to have a lot of excuses or walls up–it has to be buried in there. They will always have an army of minions behind him, and that happens on a global scale with politics. We’re seeing that in Brazil right now. It’s also a reflection on how people will always stand by celebrity figures at all costs.
The first idea of the film was very practical. Portugal is a small country and we have a lot of strong filmmakers, but we don’t really have an industry. Not a major one. I wanted to do something that I could write and film with one actor in one location in one shot–almost like an exercise. Before we did get some funding, my plan was to not even have credits. We were working on the adrenaline of the idea of filming this. I spent some time listening to some local, Portuguese radio, and the calls, in the short film, are real calls. Except the main call. Everything was a transcript of a real conversation.”
When Vitor takes a call from Raul, the radio DJ realizes that they know one another. It takes him a moment to put the pieces together, but the camera is slowly swirling around Vitor’s desk. It’s almost as if Melo has made us the prosecutor in a courtroom, and we are grilling a witness on the stand. When the accusation comes out, the camera comes to a stop. Melo is patient with his movements.
“The idea was to start inside the studio itself, but in order for the camera to go behind the actor, we had to have people moving the wall,” he said. “I wanted to go into the room from the front not as a technical feat, but if an entity came in, that’s how they would do it. We wanted it shot in one shot. We built the set in a warehouse that the producer found, and that was less expensive than using a soundstage. When we got to the warehouse, that corridor is a real corridor, and I immediately wanted to use it. Regarding patience, I rehearsed with my friends on an iPhone to see how we could travel around the set. We realized that it wasn’t organic, because you want to be with Vitor always and, if we are going to corner him, we circle him like a shark. When the attack comes, we go as close as we can towards him.”
Vitor’s last name has a double meaning. A wolf carries a lot of pride, but it’s also a hunter. It stalks its prey, and Vitor may not realize that some of his audience might raise their eyebrow after the call with Raul.
“That’s a lot about ego, but there is the predator side to it as well,” Melo stated. “At one point, I was rehearsing with the actor, and I asked him, ‘He’s guilty, right?’ And he said to me, ‘I have my opinion, and you probably have your own…let’s not tell each other.’ I didn’t know if he thought his character.”
We have seen many films where a phone call changes everything, but there is tremendous weight in Raul’s voice. Think of Scream, Phone Booth, or Taken. Melo revealed how physically close his actors were to one another, and it is reminiscent of being in the moment while we watch a play on stage.
“One thing that I wanted to make sure to do is have all the actors on set,” he said. “It wasn’t adding in in post-production with recordings. We had Vitor in one room, and we had another room set up about fifty feet away with a living room where people can call in in real time. These are two actors actually interacting with each other. I’m not sorry about that, because it makes a difference. They found their own chemistry, so I didn’t have to do much. It’s important that the other voice can affect the other. In real time, he was threatening the family, so I was running back and forth.”
After the phone call ends, the switchboard lights up with calls, and Vitor carries on with his evening. That’s the most unsettling thing about this particular situation. Will Vitor call on his listeners for support? The way he switches from fear to work is chilling.
“He does that moment very well, and it’s scary if you think about it on a global level,” Melo said. “World leaders can do the worst possible shit, and they will always have people devoted to them. How can they connect like this? It took me a while to have an ending to convey that feeling. I didn’t want to see him punished, because some people aren’t.”