We’ve all been there: standing around, minding your own business, something completely innocuous happens nearby and you’re thrown down the mental rabbit-hole. In Christine Hooper’s colourful short The Last Time, a bus stop encounter begets an epic rumination on a toxic relationship – between one woman and her cigarettes.

Hooper’s three-minute dramatic monologue on her longstanding paramour, delivered with precision and a relatable fussiness by narrator Charlotte Ritchie, is both airy and complex. In that sense, it’s not dissimilar to a wispy mass of smoke, although here we mostly see unattractive puffs of cancerous mushroom cloud. Point is, from a smoker’s perspective, it’s never quite as simple as Just Say No.

We start on that first embarrassing drag and continue through all sorts of little moments, each anchored by the allure of smoking. The narration and editing are fluid as anything, but a little jittery – reflecting that neurotic fixation we often get when reflecting on all those ill-advised choices and embarrassing moments: late-night cigs, doomed relationships, eye-rolling personal pretensions – all probably worth quitting, and all rolled up and dragged into a loosely-rhyming poem that feels skilfully overthinky.  

Hooper uses a fairly Wes Andersonesque tableau style, creating what feels like an extended advert. It’s the kind of totally bright, Pinterest-y millennial affair ubiquitous enough that you suspect, in a world of different rules, it could be used to sell us cigarettes with a smile. Yet for all that cringeworthy description, every frame works – breezy, but laced with acerbic self-importance.

The Last Time bolsters its surface tweeness with surprising commitment to an addicted thought process. It replicates that rush of solipsistic fixation on our own oh-so-interesting lives when confronted with some sudden psycho-stimulus. We’ve all been there: watching a video, you remember that party a decade ago where you first…

The Last Time will be aired on Channel 4 at midnight on Monday 4th September as part of  Random Acts, a series of short films curated by Fresh Meat star Zawe Ashton. Special thanks to Channel 4 for this exclusive preview.

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CAST: Charlotte Ritchie, Heather Winstanley, Josh Taylor

DIRECTOR: Christine Hooper

WRITER: Christine Hooper

EDITOR: Kelly Armstrong

DOP: Ian Forbes

PRODUCERS: Greet Kallikorm, Christine Hooper

SYNOPSIS: One woman’s struggle to stub out love’s flame.