Granny's enduring a brutal holiday season. Tormented by youngsters in her dour apartment block, besieged by blaring news reports of global strife, still fearful of Covid and achingly lonely, her Christmas seems anything but merry. All around her, household objects shatter of their own accord. The walls begin to split apart, raining down plaster, physically mirroring Granny's increasingly shattered psyche.
That's the set-up for "The Rift," a powerhouse four-minute film from German discount retailer Penny. It digs deep into the spirit of the season and the soul of humanity, while turning yuletide tropes on their head.
The chain's 2021 holiday ad, about lost innocence, was stellar. This year, Penny outdoes itself with an emotionally fraught, visually dynamic tale of one woman's battle with desperation that serves as an ultimately uplifting metaphor for our shared struggle against the depths of life's abyss:
In the end, a thoughtful visit from one of the previously rowdy youngsters begins to turn the tide. Granny's cracked specs mend as if by magic. The whole world doesn't instantly brighten, but there's hope that her lot will improve. That's honest. And human. More than enough for any commercial to convey. Penny does so in simple yet powerful terms, crafting an intimate, personal, deeply meaningful story amid chaos and disorder.
The end line, "Let's heal the rifts in our society," aims pretty high. But the film provides a template for getting there: Fix one crack at a time, and perhaps better days will follow.
"With the start of the pandemic, every one of us has experienced cracks in the foundation of their everyday lives," Serviceplan creative director Moritz Dornig tells Muse. "Friendships are tested over vaccine discussions, we witness prejudices wherever we go, people treat each other with less kindness, and not a week goes by without a protest in the streets—hard winds are blowing. When talking about these trends in our creative team and with the client, everyone felt that this is the subject that deserves a larger platform this year."
He continues: "Just like everybody had their own conflicts to deal with, everyone had different ideas of how those divisions should be portrayed in the film: cracks, rifts, trenches, canyons? It was director Seb Edwards' idea to let these rifts appear as literal cracks throughout the building in different shapes and sizes—a small crack in the glasses, dented metal in the elevator, walls that break away. They're just as individual as the divisions occurring between people."
Edwards created a previous holiday classic with John Lewis' 2018 film about Elton John. That one was awesome, with vibrant scope and energy. Here, he explores utterly different territory, marked by unsettling images that heighten the tension without becoming showy distractions.
"The cracks were like the third main character of the film," says Matthias Schuster, also a CD at Serviceplan. "It was important that each crack does not always appear in the same way, but develops, like the other protagonists."
To achieve maximum realism while filming at a high-rise in Bucharest and on nearby sound stages, "our set designers carved them directly into the set—starting with the glasses' lenses, to the cracks in the wall in the stairwell, up to the broken keys of the piano. In post-production, the cracks were airbrushed out for early scenes, so we could show a fluid development. Dust particles and numerous other special effects, such as the unrolling of the wallpaper, added further authenticity." (Naturally, on location, the crew cleaned up afterwards.)
None of this would work, however, if the lead actors—Edie Samland and Philip Kapell—didn't deliver such compelling performances. They say little but convey an impressive range of emotion with body language, looks and gestures. Displaying personal growth, empathy and insight with nods and glances is a tough act to pull off, even in feature films and episodic dramas, where actors have far more to work with. Here, Samland and Kapell deliver in every frame, in complete sympathy with the gritty spectacle transpiring around them.
"To find the perfect cast, the director developed the actors' characters together in remote casting sessions that lasted several hours," Schuster recalls. "This resulted in two extremely focused, professional and strong protagonists."
All told, "The Rift" should go a long way toward boosting Penny, which keeps a low profile during the film, letting the story unfold naturally, without awkward branding or placements.
"The essence of Penny is community," says Serviceplan managing partner Christoph Everke. "Penny has 29,000 employees who come into direct customer contact every day and are exposed to all these conflicts that we describe in our film. At Penny markets, all people, opinions and their disputes meet. They are the neighborhood market that stands for closeness and community. So, the message comes directly from the heart of the brand."
"Our communication is not only for customers, but also for those 29,000 employees," he explains. "One of them commented on Facebook, when we posted the spot, 'I wish we could show it on a screen in the market.' "
"The Rift" will run across Penny's social media channels as well as in German cinemas. Digital, print and OOH elements figure into the mix. Notably, there's a guide for starting constructive conversations and reaching out to those in need.
Penny Markt GmbH:
Dr. Stefan Görgens / COO PENNY Markt GmbH
Marcus Haus / Bereichsleiter Marketing
Werner Hesse Quack / Head of Brand Marketing
Thomas Raupach / Head of Digital Marketing
Friederike Pater / Senior Digital Marketing Managerin
Christoph Everke / Serviceplan Campaign / Managing Director
Michael Jaeger / Serviceplan Campaign / Managing Partner
Moritz Dornig / Serviceplan Campaign / Creative Director
Matthias Schuster / Serviceplan Campaign / Creative Director
Katharina King / Serviceplan Campaign / Copywriter
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Alessia Scheffler / Serviceplan Campaign / Junior Account Managerin
Frederike Striegel / Serviceplan Campaign / Account Director
Marén Echtermeyer / Freelance / Account Management
Aisha Blackwell / NEVEREST GmbH & Co Kg / Executive Producer
Jennifer Meisels / Freelance / Producer
ANORAK Film GmbH / Production company
ICON films / Serviceproduction
Seb Edwards / Director
Kasper Tuxen / DOP
Kave Quinn / Production Design
Fritzi Ngenci / Costume Design
Adi Popescu / SFX Supervisor
Stephen Grasso / VFX Supervisor
Tom Lindsay / Editor
Nicolas Becker / Sound design
Ken Yasumoto / Soundmix
Ben Lukas Boysen / Music
Christoph Petzenhauser / Executive Producer
Björn Krüger-Levy / Producer
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Alex Molea / Service Producer
TRIM / Offline Edit
TIME BASED ARTS / VFX studio
Julia Todorow / Casting