Gender Politics in Short Film ‘Sweet Things’

Sweet Things is a poignant short film directed by Henry K. Norvalls that explores the casual sexism women endure on a daily basis.

The film opens on a close up of ornate tarts in a cafe display case before cutting to a professionally dressed woman, Anne, nervously fidgeting and arranging her items at a table–she has a tablet, a phone, and a notepad. She continually slows her breathing to calm herself. She is startled when a man, George, knocks on the window beside her but softens when she sees it is who she has been waiting for–he is there to interview her for a job as a real estate photographer. George enters, opening the door for a woman with a baby carriage first. He goes to the counter to order a drink, asking if Anne wants something but she gestures to the coffee she has already ordered. George takes a seat as they swap several awkward hellos and a handshake. He takes out an apple and as he is chewing asks, “Right…why do you want to work for me?” before taking out his phone and laying it on the table. Anne answers, mostly unphased as George’s coffee comes to the table and his eyes linger on the waitress. Anne finishes her answer to which George responds, “You practiced that?” The interview continues on as George continues to assert his male dominance while Anne does her best to remain unaffected.

The acting in Sweet Things is superbly subtle and complex. Anne’s every gesture choreographs her accelerating discomfort as she interacts with George. For example, just by leaning into the table and turning her lips slightly down, the audience can feel how taken aback she is when George asks, “You’re not on a diet?” The actress conveys volumes with uneasy smiles, grinding her lips together, and continually adjusting her coat. Another brilliantly conveyed moment is the tightening of Anne’s face and the tilting of her eyes downward when George states, “we have good chemistry.” Though George is completely oblivious to Anne’s discomfort, the audience can see it all vividly. Perhaps the most striking moment is when Anne nods to George, then nods almost to herself a second time as he sends her the address for a listing to go to–the second nod is a visualization of her convincing herself that what he has done is okay, when clearly it is not. There is a shot of Anne through the pastry case window, the colorful tarts in the foreground–the shot is a visual metaphor for the male gaze she is trapped by; Anne fidgets throughout the shot, showing her extreme unease at being pedestalized in such a way. The film ends with Anne taking off her earrings and telling the waitress she does not want the tart George ordered, explicating that she does not condone the male attention she received. Though she got the job from George it is hard for her to swallow because she does not know if it was truly because of her qualifications.

The film carefully catalogues common male microaggressions against females, demonstrating the casual sexism and power dynamics of many male-female relationships. From the moment he walks in, George is a force of male dominance. He begins the interview by biting into an apple he has brought with him, chewing loudly as Anne tries to answer his questions; his first question, “why do you want to work for me?” is abrupt and loaded, meant to throw Anne off balance. He relies on implicit assumptions about females, as when he asks “you’re not on a diet?” and rather than listen to Anne talk about her qualifications he simply states, “You have a lot to live up to. Vegard sings your praises.” George’s remark that they “have good chemistry” and that Anne is “sweet” is further evidence of his internalized sexist attitudes towards women. Perhaps most interesting about George, a point beautifully conveyed, is that he likely has no idea he is sexist. The image of him opening the door for a woman when he first walks into the cafe or the moment when he forces Anne to try the tart are in his mind evidence of him being a ‘gentleman.’ The complexity and miscommunication between these two characters is symptomatic of larger societal perspectives on gender roles and how women are perceived.

Sweet Things seeks to breed awareness about these common instances of sexism. As the title card says at the beginning of the film, “based on thousands, perhaps millions of real events.” As the recent #metoo campaign has shown, this is remarkably resonant.

Samantha Bloom

Samantha is a graduate from Stanford University with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. Her previous writing projects have included a satirical Silicon Valley musical, a short film that moves the story of Jekyll and Hyde onto social media, a short film about female embodiment in the modern age, and short stories galore. She’s an obsessive fan girl with an affinity for 80s pop, science fiction, and quirky historical facts. She hopes to be a writer for TV and/or film one day.

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