NYFF: Shorts Program
As anyone who has been trapped in an interminable conversation can attest, the ability to make a long story short is a rare gift. So why is it that the short film (unlike the short story) is more frequently regarded as a stepping-stone toward feature filmmaking than a valid mode of storytelling in its own right? The 52nd New York Film Festival went a long way towards recognizing the form’s intrinsic value with their annual dedicated shorts programs, which far from being a sideshow to the main slate, sold tickets handsomely. With 13 films spanning 12 different countries, the selection ranged in subject matter from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Tal Zagreba’s Humor) to the illegal smuggling of Kinder-eggs (Andrew Rodgers’s Crooked Candy).
Both Marcelo Grabowsky’s Chlorine and Jesse Hasse’s In August explore the casualties of divorce—namely, children. A dark take on a sexual awakening, Chlorine witnesses a marriage’s end through the striking green eyes of a wealthy (and perpetually poolside) Brazilian teenager, while In August hones in on a father-daughter relationship on the morning the paterfamilias leaves home for good. Simple in conception and nuanced in execution, Hasse’s film is worth singling out. Its brief but fully realized glimpse into familial love and discord unfolds largely on a single car ride through the mountainous French countryside. The gorgeously shot sequence achieves its full narrative and visual potential, with the director coaxing seemingly effortless performances from two actors at opposite ends of the age spectrum.
The prevalence of coming of age tales in the program (including Chlorine) suggests a collective desire to distill the painfully prolonged experience of adolescence. Set within the Romany and African American communities of Italy and France, respectively, Jonas Carpignano’s The Lions of Gypsy and Yohann Kouam’s The Return probe the protean nature of fraternal relationships. In both cases, the younger brothers discover more than they care to know about their older, lionized counterparts. Carpignano’s film is the more striking of the two; noteworthy for its grainy, naturalistic cinematography in particular, the film bears witness to a young boy’s foray into manhood (complete with a visit to the town’s Fellini-esque prostitute) in a taut but moving 16 minutes.
The Girl and The Dogs
Co-directed by Selma Vilhunen and Guillaume Mainguet, The Girl and The Dogs also zeroes in on youth, this time in the Danish countryside. Melding fantasy and realism, this remarkably fluid film follows three pre-teen girls on their expedition on foot through a forest and across a beach, to a party where the presence of boys is guaranteed. The journey quickly takes narrative precedence over the destination, then takes a masterful detour into the realm of fable when the girls are deterred by a disturbing discovery on the windswept shore.
The shorts program took its darkest turn when it reached South America. Federico Adorno’s La Estancia and Jayisha Patel’s A Paradise provide equally stirring meditations on death and the process of grieving. Completely wordless but far from silent, La Estancia makes ample use of ambient sound to depict Paraguayan farmers emerging from the brush to collect and bury their dead after being forced off their land. In A Paradise, a Cuban family finds comfort in sharing their private tragedy with an all-too-empathetic community.
Jordan Schiele’s Wu Gui happens to be the only selection from Asia, though it stands out more for its setting than its origin: it unfolds predominantly in a stark white studio. While trying to sell his pet turtle on the street, a construction worker is convinced to pose for a portrait by the first woman who makes him an offer. With moments that recall Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, the simple setup is parlayed into an astute study on identity, class, and the potential for connection between strangers. Embedding a great deal of substance in his grey scale, minimalist aesthetic, Schiele is definitely a director worth keeping an eye on.
The Kármán Line
While the 2013 roster boasted a handful of recognizable names (Damien Chazelle, Michael Almereyda, FILM COMMENT mainstay Jonathan Romney, Nicolas Saada), this year’s line-up focuses on newcomers. Nevertheless, familiar faces can be spotted in the crowd—most notably that of Fassbinder’s longtime muse, Hanna Schygulla, who stars in Sergei Rostropovich’s Ophelia, and British actress Olivia Colman, who plays the lead in Oscar Sharp’s The Kármán Line. In Sharp’s absurdist take on the perils of moving upwards, Colman plays a housewife who one day finds herself locked in suspension hovering above ground. In spite of numerous visits from medical specialists, she continues to ascend unstoppably away from her husband and daughter towards the boundary that divides earth from space. Pairing deadpan tonality with the outlandish imagination of a Roald Dahl story, Sharp’s film also filled the void in a program otherwise noticeably lacking in humor. It’s not often that a movie so bizarre in conception succeeds so well in execution, and Sharp might very well be set to follow his protagonist’s skyward trajectory.