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Film / Death of a Shadow

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Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw) is a 2012 short film from Belgium (in Flemish), directed by Tom Van Avermaet.

Nathan Rijckx (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a young Belgian man wearing an army greatcoat. As the film opens he hears a sound of scuffling and a struggle in the street...but there are only disembodied shadows. Nathan points a weird, ornate camera at the sounds, and the camera reveals what is really happening: a man is beating another man to death. Nathan takes a photo at the moment the victim dies.

He then goes to a strange house full of ornate steam-powered equipment, where he is met by a strange bald man. It seems that Nathan is a Belgian soldier who was killed in combat in 1917. He now lives in a sort of afterlife, where he travels through time (the beating he photographed was in 1983) harvesting shadows of the dead for the bald man, who collects them. Long ago, the bald man offered Nathan a deal: if Nathan brought him ten thousand shadows of the dead, the bald man would allow Nathan to return to the world of the living. Nathan has only two souls left to collect. He hopes to go back to 1917 and find Sarah, a young woman whom he met just moments before he was killed.

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Tropes:

  • Affably Evil: The bald man is a creepy, weird guy who gets off on absorbing the experiences of people who died—he really likes drownings, and he's disappointed when Nathan brings him the shadow of a man who died of old age. But he's polite, and he keeps his end of the deal, release Nathan into the living world when Nathan brings his 10,000th soul.
  • Bald of Evil: The creepy guy who sends Nathan out to fetch souls of the dead is completely bald.
  • Blood from the Mouth: How it's demonstrated that Nathan has died, again, after he's shot by firing squad.
  • Casts No Shadow: Nathan doesn't cast one as he's roaming around the afterlife because the bald man has his mounted on the wall. When he is liberated after collecting his 10,000th soul, the shadow is returned to him and he casts one again.
  • Collector of the Strange: On the list of strange things to collect, "collect the shadows of the dead so you can get off on experiencing their last moments" has to be high up there.
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  • Flashback: Nathan's death. A flashback shows that Nathan was running from two Germans. One winged him with a bullet. He blundered into Sarah, who bandaged his wound, only for the two Germans to show up and kill him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Nathan substitutes his soul for Daniel's, allowing himself to be shot by firing squad so Daniel can return to Sarah.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Nathan, having been given back corporeal life, return to 1917, only to find that Sarah has gone mad with grief after her beloved Daniel was killed in the war. So he switches places with Daniel, and it's Nathan that's shot by firing squad instead, while Daniel goes back to Sarah.
  • No Name Given: Creepy Bald Guy is only called "the shadow collector" in the credits.
  • Noodle Incident: Why is a soldier in uniform being shot by firing squad?
  • Shot at Dawn: How Daniel met his fate in the war, shot by a German firing squad.
  • Steampunk: The bald man's mansion is filled with exotic machinery that is powered by steam, with lots of pistons and interlocking gears. When it's time for Nathan to harvest a death, the machine spits out the necessary info on notecards where the letters are printed out in old-timey Gothic script.
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