In this film, we are bought into the lives of quite a wealthy family with a young daughter. Spooked by a dark tale from her mother’s wartime past, she starts to believe her adored cleaner is a thief. Through the eyes of this child, we experience feelings of mistrust and discernment of a very sensitive nature.
Inspired by stories from the aftermath of his family’s Holocaust survival, director Mark Rosenblatt explores, through the tiniest of domestic details, the subtle and complicated impact of trauma on the next generation.
In the opening scene, young Ruthie (Izabella Dziewanska) plays alone in her large family home, without a care in the world. During her escapades, we come into a scene with the maid busy on duty, dusting down bookshelves and ornaments. As soon as the maid is aware the child is present in the room, she chases her little miss through the halls in a playful manner, letting us know of a happy and healthy relationship between the two. Clearly, she has been steadily employed with this family for some time.
Sophie McShera plays Lynn, maid to the Hirths, suspected a thief, “a ganef”, by young Ruthie.
Their playful romp is interrupted by keys opening the front door. Mum is home and the daughter rushes to greet her. Draped in diamond earrings, a fur coat, and many shopping bags in hand, the woman is evidently one of class and affluence, and it’s a good thing her child has come to meet her at the door, away from any prying eyes. She discreetly hands the bags from the high-end fashion stores to her daughter and whispers to her to take them straight to her bedroom. The puzzled child does as she is told and hurries up the stairs. Now Mrs Hirth enters the room where the maid is, gives her the bags with the groceries and hands over her coat to be put away. She lets the employee know that she is retiring to her room to rest and mustn’t be disturbed.
Upstairs, as she begins to undress, her still confused daughter questions her. “Why couldn’t Lynn see the bags mummy?” Her response is cryptic, “Because people don’t need to see what they don’t need to see.” The young child remains mystified but stays persistent. “But why not?” she repeats. Her mother proceeds to tell her a story of when she was back home in Frankfurt and was the victim of an attack. “Do you remember the bad people I told you about that hurt us? One of the soldiers was a Ganef: A thief. He came into our home and took what was ours. But he could have never done so had he not known what we had…”
The film is told from Ruthie’s point of view and is firmly focused on the child’s relationship with the maid and her mother.
Later on in the day, as her mother is resting, our girl continues on with her leisurely strolls about the house, this time not as boisterous and nonchalant as earlier. Mother’s story seems to have gotten to her, “Can we not trust our own maid? And if not, who can we?”
As she walks along the upstairs landing, looking somewhat mesmerised, she catches sight of Lynn through the bannister, who is downstairs carrying on with her tasks. Humming away in her own world, polishing some trinkets on a desk, she has no idea that the young madame is observing her. After wiping down a small silver dish, she picks it up to admire it for a second. To the child’s complete astonishment and despair, Lynn now slips the dish into the pocket of her uniform and gets back to work.
Wow!! What should she do?
Ruthie’s world crashes when she sees her adored Lynn stealing a small ornament.
Although just 15 minutes long, I personally found this short film a masterpiece. It’s written and directed by Mark Rosenblatt and the three main characters are played by Lydia Wilson (Mrs Hirth), best known for her roles in films like About Time, Never Let Me Go and Star Trek Beyond; Sophie McShera (the maid), a familiar face to us all from the hit series Downton Abbey; and Izabella Dziewanska as Ruthie.
After watching, I got the opportunity to interview Suri Ellerton, who co-produced the piece along with Mark Rosenblatt.
What is it like producing short pictures with actors/actresses that have starred in globally acclaimed works?
It’s exciting! The level of talent that we had on this short (across the film – in both cast and crew) was honestly really humbling. We were grateful to have the superb casting director, Matilda James, as part of the team, who was crucial to the process of getting that level of acting talent on board. We were a little nervous about approaching Sophie to play another maid (!) but she was very gracious and took the part on with incredible energy. Aside from being hugely talented, Sophie is absolutely the most delightful human you can come across. We were equally fortunate to have the exceptional actress (and person), Lydia Wilson, playing Mrs Hirth. Despite Ganef being a much smaller project than what these actresses might do normally, they both treated the film and its process as a priority and took huge amounts of time preparing with Mark [Rosenblatt].
Suri Ellerton started her career in 2014 as a production assistant in Benny Fredman’s Suicide and has since worked in many films and co-founded Same Name Productions.
Were there any difficulties you had to overcome as a crew while filming?
One of our biggest challenges on set was the time crunch that is involved in shooting a film with a young child. Izabella, who played Ruthie, was only six at the time of shooting which meant she was only allowed to be on set for a very limited amount of hours (I think it was around three). Considering she was in practically every scene and we only had a few days to shoot, we had to plan everything to the tee (and even cut in some places) to get what we needed. Thankfully, our crew were incredibly professional and efficient, so it was still a good experience despite the pressure!
I found the young girl cast as the daughter to be an exceptional and very intelligent actress. How easy or difficult is it working with such young actors?
She is incredible, isn’t she? As I mentioned before, there are definitely logistic difficulties but in terms of everything else, working with Izabella was a dream. When we cast her originally, we could see she had something special, but it was also her first time on a film set, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Our director, Mark, spent a lot of time preparing her and talking to her about her character (he even wrote her a kind of children’s story for her to read so he could connect to her at her level.) But when we did our read-through with the actors, she was being energetic and silly (as appropriate for a six-year-old!). I remember worrying, “Is this going to happen on set when we have a maximum of three hours to film and there are a lot of people moving around her? How are we ever going to get this done?” But then, on the first day where cameras were rolling, she stepped on set and her energy totally changed. It was like she knew – “this is the important part, and I’m going to show them what I can do.” She was ready, she was professional and she just performed – which resulted in the incredible performance that you saw in the film.
Review and interview: Papa-Sono Abebrese
To watch Ganef’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8h8QiyC8kw