Short Film Review: The Smell of Coffee (2020)

Of all possible experiences that are shared among all, love and grief are two that constantly pull us back to our sense of humanity. Although different in details and vast in intentions, they are emotions that never fail to raise questions throughout our existence.

I suppose it is their elusiveness that constantly beckons us to go in search for them, and their presence that holds us together, reminding us what binds us to others.

After all, no man is an island. Right?


Directed, written and edited by Nishok Nishok, The Smell of Coffee is a short film that gentle guides your attention through the eyes of a young boy. In the film, Raga accompanies his grandmother in the wake of his grandfather's passing.

Filmed in a fading apartment, the imagery has a sense of familiarity and comfort. White square tiles on walls, a simple dining table in the kitchen and a bathroom just wide enough for two. The ambience  is soothing, like a lullaby with the apartment's stillness and washed out colours.

Although the items are anything but alive, it is almost as if you can feel their breathing. Your eyes  focus on the tiny ants trying to carry forgotten biscuit crumbs home. Your ears listen to the rhythmic dripping of a loose water tap. Your fingers almost touching your smooth face as Raga mimics the shaving of a non-existent beard.

The young boy is a wonder that piques one's curiosity as well. His wide eyes are perplexed and confused by his late-grandfather's absence. At the same time, he exudes an innocence that adults can only yearn for.
He asks questions that seem to have no answers, while carrying on with living his days in a carefree manner. With careful gestures, he explores the house with light steps. He is the keen observer of the apartment's stillness and the comfort of his grandmother.

He orbits around her stillness.

Trying to carry the burden of grief in silence, the grandmother draws most of the attention whenever she appears. Seemingly stoic, she carries on with her chores and takes care of Raga. She holds her tongue, never speaking about the passing of her partner, as if giving it a voice will provide a finality she is not ready to accept.

However, as the film moves on, her demeanour starts to soften.

Her biscuits sit untouched on her plate, while her hands remain unmoving and her eyes stare blankly at the wall in front. Her gaze starts to waver.

Tears only ever come when she believes that she is alone, out of the sight of young Raga.

Slowly, as things start disappearing out of sight—such as ironed clothes—does she start to unravel in the newfound emptiness and the overwhelming sensation of it all.

Together with the well-paced shots, the emotional journey or discovery of both persons are visually satisfying. From their differences in age and understanding, you experience the various reactions within the comfort of a familiar apartment.

The Smell of Coffee, truly, is a short film about the bittersweet nature of life, and a simple ode to the love and grief we all carry throughout our lives.


The Smell of Coffee world premiered at the 66th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen - Children's and Youth Film Competition, which was held 13-18 May 2020.

Written by Dawn Teo
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