Why do we fight each other? What is it that draws friends, family, any assorted group to take up verbal sparring when they gather? Can’t we just enjoy each other’s company? These are the questions presented in Christina Kallas’ 42 Seconds of Happiness.
An anxiety permeates every minute of 42 Seconds of Happiness’ 94-minute runtime, starting from minute one with a wall of sound from an oncoming storm, warning of the building tension below the surface of the story. We cut into the story proper, which has a few friends and family brought together for a same-sex wedding.
Something Kallas and her talented crew of actors have captured here (and for that matter in her sophomore effort, The Rainbow Experiment) is the natural rhythms of people shouting over each other. The film may be a wall of sound, full of a comical amount of characters, but it’s a grounded one. Even at its most melodramatic (a second-act digression, involving a gun that feels a bit too sudden), 42 Seconds manages to stay real because of the tremendous amount of work that must have gone in to the creation of the characters and the directional style.
Kallas’ directional style attacks the material with the fervor of a Dogma 95 effort, complete with “shot on shitteo” quality, shaky cam, and disorienting cuts designed to throw the audience off. We go from one person to the next, to outside of the conversation and back into it but never lose engagement. It’s a descent into madness on the back of a filmmaker who isn’t content with following the typical rules of filmmaking, but rather interested in the ways that breaking those rules can create an emotionally wrenching experience.
Yet, in the face of all of that, Kallas makes the interesting decision to end the film with a moment of happiness. A moment where concessions are finally made and where characters finally give in to each other. It’s a slightly funny notion that all it took was two days and nights of screaming at each other, threats at gunpoint, and a tropical storm to give these disparate friends the opportunity, for a brief moment at least, to enjoy each other’s company.