A Mysterious Though Evocative Short Film

Sampson Wong's "Sonata for Smoke"

by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Sonata From Smoke

This is a No Man is an Island film review written in collaboration with Cinema Escapist, as part of coverage of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Keep an eye out for more!

“SONATA FOR SMOKE” is an evocative though mysterious short film from artist and curator Sampson Wong, taking smoke itself as its subject. 

“Sonata for Smoke” stands out for its mastery of the technical aspects of filmmaking, playing with viewers’ expectations through its proficiency. The film begins with what appears to be a burning object, along with a blunt instrument that is eventually revealed to be a microphone. They are left to wonder what they are seeing for several moments, before the camera pulls back. 

Without giving away the rest of the film, which is reliant on surprising viewers and keeping them guessing as to what comes next, “Sonata for Smoke” begins in a stage environment, suggesting that the film is in some ways a meta-comment on filmmaking, art, or perhaps the nature of staged fiction. From there, the film transitions to other venues, including in a vehicle, and the ocean. However, the film continues to openly show the use of microphones or cameras as part of the filmmaking, again suggesting that “Sonata for Smoke” is a form of reflexive commentary. 

Film still

In this, “Sonata for Smoke” manages to avoid ever being gimmicky, as a film of like nature may be. Nor does the film attempt to force any extrapolated or metaphor onto viewers. Instead, the film manages to be an open puzzle, with the film’s closing perhaps raising more questions than answers. 

“Sonata for Smoke” very probably intends to provide a series of short, evocative moments rather than have any narrative or clear-cut allegorical meaning, then. The film manages this well, through its accomplished use of sound and image.