Reviews of three recent shorts.
Reviews by Benjamin Poole
Seriously though, who actually cares about The Oscars? I speak as someone who has watched and loved films all of my life; go to the cinema every week, have no room left for DVDs/blus in my little house and subscribe to both Netflix AND Amazon Prime. Yet, I’ve never once watched an Oscar ‘ceremony’ all the way through, much less given two hoots who won what and where. For one thing, it’s boring; here’s so and so to give an award to another so and so who will thank some different so and sos, and so on. Art reduced to meaningless competition: this isn’t sports, after all. I’d rather spend the time (the ceremony averages out to three. and. a. half. hours.) watching an actual film to be honest with you, or paint dry. Because at least when paint dries there isn’t this condescending assumption that the audience is excited and grateful to be witnessing the chemical reaction that occurs when emulsion encounters air at room temperature/ a bunch of good looking people pat each other on the gold statues and wear nice frocks (ok, admittedly, I do like the frocks a bit).
As Shania Twain once said, that don’t impress me that much. Well, at least the self-congratulatory, Weinstein commandeered ‘big awards’ don’t: the real value of the Academy Awards, for anyone who cares about the craft of cinema and the creativity that extends beyond wondering whether Casey Affleck frowns his way to a statue, or if Mr. Gosling will sweep it out from under him (and what either wears while doing so), are the awards given for the behind the camera industry which supports the sheen; the editing, the costumes, the sound design. The aspects of film making we perhaps take for granted when watching movies, and which the Academy Awards at least gives a platform to (except when they shunt off the ‘technical achievement’ gongs to a dinner ceremony the day before the awards proper, that is). Likewise, the categories given over to foreign films, allowing these cinematic underdogs a validation which, at the very least, affords movies like last year’s Son of Saul deserved exposure. And, yes, the time and space allowed to our beloved short films is welcome too. Perhaps the attention offered by the Oscars here is even more pertinent, as the short is the real cinematic niche interest. After all, where else can you even read about them apart from sites like this?
With the short film being such an outsider form, it is fitting that our three films this month - the first two of which are nominated for Oscars - focus on different degrees of liminality in their narratives and presentation of character. First up is Spain’s lovely and original Timecode (written and directed by Pere Altimira and Juanjo Giménez Peña), which begins by detailing the daily/nightly drudge of shift work at a multi-storey car park, before becoming something altogether more wonderful.
Scanning through the previous day’s CCTV footage, Luna (Lali Ayguadé) happens upon her counterpart Diego (Nicolas Ricchini) executing Marcel Marceau bodypops that flourish into full blown ballet moves as he wanders the car park. Subsequently, the two forge a relationship based entirely upon dance, with each counterpart performing on-camera routines and then, as their shift ends, leaving a post-it with the corresponding timecode on it for the other to privately discover: the two actors are clearly practiced dancers, as the sequences become more elaborate and exciting as the film continues.
Timecode is delightfully cinematic, and not just in its mesmeric capture of graceful physical movement: there are also themes of looking, of watching and performance that relate to the thrilling and intimate bond between screen and audience. All this and a killer last line, too: as far as Shorts Showcase is concerned, in this year’s Oscars, there’s only one film about people having a dance romance.
In Hungary’s Mindenki (directed and written by Kristóf Deák, Bex Harvey and Christian Azzola), little Zsófi (Dorka Gáspárfalvi) is an outsider. She’s the new girl in a strange school, but could there be a chance of Zsófi finding a sense of belonging in the music department’s award winning choir? Perhaps… if only poor Zsófi wasn’t tone deaf. However, this misfortune doesn’t preclude the Machiavellian mistress in charge of the choir (Zsófia Szamosi) from allowing Zsófi the opportunity to participate in the group, although, in order to not ruin the choir’s impeccable record, she does insist that Zsófi silently mimes along to the better singers. Chagrined, Zsófi and her pals perceive this as an injustice which they then plot to frustrate…
Based on a true story, Mindenki is most thought provoking when Miss Erika voices her reasons for ‘cheating’, stating that the ruse gives all members of the choir the opportunity to travel and access experiences that they would probably not be able to otherwise, a skewed act of teacherly munificence that Zsófi is sadly too naïve to appreciate. The children in Mindenki are fantastic and convincing, while the themes of acceptance and integrity also ring heartbreakingly true.
Where the Woods End
Germany’s Where the Woods End was shortlisted for Oscar nom glory, but didn’t make the final five, leading me to wonder just how good the other three on the official list must be.
Where the Woods End’s first scene opens with a routine traffic stop and search on the border, and a few minutes later ends in unpleasant bloodshed as young cop Elke (Henrike von Kuick) shoots an unarmed man. What follows in Felix Ahrens and Lucas Flasch’s taut thriller is an intense character study, as Elke wrestles with the consequences of her actions, leading to the disintegration of her personal and professional life. However, despite her blonde ponytail and open face, this cop isn’t as innocent as she might seem; she places pressure on her partner, and is determined to find evidence to clear her name, rather than her conscience. Any lingering guilt or sympathy on Elke’s part is overwritten by her steely survival instincts, soundtracked by a tense score that invokes Hans Zimmer at his most nerve wracking. A flawed character, Elke’s desperate attempts to excuse her trigger-happy hastiness makes for a fascinating gestalt, one which is timely in an era privy to high-profile shoot first/ question later tragedies. At a last ebb, eventually the cop tracks down the victim’s sister, leading to a narrative twist that is devastating in its circularity.
We don’t do the Oscars or its equivalents at Shorts Showcase, but if we did, then the award for this edition's best short film would certainly go to Where the Woods End.