We Are One: A Global Film Festival - Short Film Highlights
Cannes Film Festival’s Selection shows the Undeniable Cinematic Prowess.
With the pandemic hitting every country from all over the world, several film festivals decided to unite with a special programme. ‘We Are One’ is their initiative, first and foremost, to introduce us to varying cultures - assessing how cinematic language is probably the only one that a viewer needs to understand in order to resonate with other human experiences in this form. As some of the celebrities describe, cinema is singular in its ability to transport or to be able to look at the world from a different perspective. With a noble intention such as this, the film festival began on the 29th of May.
While much of the feature film selection was largely based on the ones that had already made rounds of these renowned film festivals, the curated short films provided a unique window into the foreign world. Unlike the feature-length films, the shorts do not get a widespread release and are rarely picked up by online streaming platforms. And since there is no pressure of marketability, they provide the filmmakers with an opportunity to experiment with their craft, cinematic techniques and be more daring. So it goes without saying that the process of digging into the short film selection was an absolute treat.
Among the film festivals that took part in this programme, the selection from Cannes provided the finest audio-visual experiences, which is what movies are - while boiled down to their purpose. Their peculiar selection proved the reputation that the festival has garnered over the years.
While keeping that in mind, let’s have a look at a couple of shorts from the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival – that showed a spark in terms of going beyond the preordained structure:
And Then the Bear (L'Heure de l'Ours)
Dir. Agnès Patron
While the likes of Pixar had their films as a part of the festival, it was this cutting-edge animated film that impressed me the most. John Cassavetes had once said how being able to capture a particular feeling (or a way of living) is essentially what art films are about. ‘L'heure de l'ours’ (translated as ‘And Then the Bear’) succeeds in precisely that – in finding the emotion of a child rebelling against the guardians. While that might be simplistically trying to put the plotline into words for a film that chooses to be rather ambiguous. But that is the subject. It is a young kid who finds his position in the house being threatened by the arrival of a stranger – of a man. That may be anyone – his biological father or a guy that is having affair with his mother or just any stranger. But, the feeling of fear is important – and of the prolonged breaths – that take over the entire landscapes – sketching out and erasing and reimagining what the youngling would find comfort in. It presents being the child in the purest form – be it the need for finding a company in stranger environments – or be it the disgust to learn about sexual intercourse. The company, in this case, is that of ‘a bear’ – and through the rumbling and resonating sounds and music, many like him gather – in the midst of that natural habitat with a singular notion. In such a case, the ambiguity of the film seems like a deliberate choice – to leave something in an interpretative manner – than to try to find resolutions from a singular mind. What the film results in being is a creative child of both Cronenberg and Lynch for its ingenious blend of surreal visuals and horror. Its bewitching animation style deserves every bit of praise.
The Distance Between Us and the Sky
Dir. Vasilis Kekatos
Two strangers meet at a gas station. One of them has just refuelled his motorbike. The other one is stranded for not having enough money to head back home. The conversation starts off only for that purpose - to be able to pay for the bus fare. Yet, within an incredibly casual incident such as that, Vasilis Kekatos (writer-director of the film) is able to find an enormous amount of intimacy that it is hard to dismiss the film for just another romantic short.
While the interaction between those two passersby begins in the form of a negotiation, it slowly starts unveiling their true selves. All of that is conveyed through nothing but the dialogue they engage in – and the chemistry that both the actors (Nikos Zeginoglou and Loko Loannis Kotidis) bring in their respective performances. The cinematographic and editing choices go hand-in-hand with respect to give an idea of ‘distance’ between them – shifting from intense close-ups to expansive wide-shots.
Besides that, what the film truly succeeds is finding a striking balance in a certain duality in their conversation. It feels like a power battle where they are trying to bring one other down, switching between hostility and playfulness. And yet, the same conversation reflects a cutesy attraction that keeps gradually growing and bringing them closer. Now that they are significantly aroused by one another, there is no distance between them. Now is the time to cut the distance between them and the sky.
Dir. Erenik Beqiri
From what looks like bruises after a bull-fight, a young man gets out of a van. He gets congratulated and the men around him seem gleefully satisfied. Erenik Beqiri’s ‘The Van’ narrates a story from Albania where such incidents are rather regular occurrences – where gruesome fights between two men end with one of them successfully knocking the other out or killing one. The cause for the aforementioned fighter’s plea is to get himself out of the country, along with his father. But his father does not wish to migrate and would rather choose to work tirelessly on the local construction site. The son finds England as a land of many more opportunities and finds the current job (the construction site where he works along with his father) to be stagnant. “We will always remain workers. There is no chance to be our own bosses'', he bluntly claims to the father. Yet the conflict is not only making up his father's mind but to get enough money to flee – for which he was engaging in the illegal fights where he was a bet – where the scars were insignificant in front of his enormous hope.
The van successfully pleads a narrative between hope and despair. It presents us with the harsh realities in order to advocate the reluctance for being a worker – for there will be very little dignity and a way to strive where he lives. The skilfully shot film reminds of the visual style of Andrea Arnold – Robbie Ryan duo, which focuses on the bluntness with equally blunt and subjective camerawork. And the way that the narrative jumbles between the two characters’ internal conflicts (almost a traditionalist vs survivor conflict) endow it an incredible humanist angle – where we understand and empathize with both even while we find their acts indecent, indignant or naively impulsive. Another observation is how the characters are surrounded with only males (in the film) and their stingiest attributes which gives it almost a masochistic quality which builds the tension within its visual vocabulary.
Monster God (Monstruo Dios)
Dir. Agustina San Martín
A herd of cows running off from a terrain – Jumping over some fences – A cloudy atmosphere filled with panic by their sudden departure – A power plant and the ominous noises – Enveloping the whole charade with recurring, alarming sounds – Followed by a teenage girl on the run – Another girl, probably a younger sister has seen inside a house through a window – A constant play of lights and shades – A disco-track saying ‘Jesus, I am here’.
Much of Monster God passes by just like that, like flashes of memories – without a particular guiding order. What we call abstract is primarily that - a deconstruction of a predominant structure to find new ways of presentation. While Monster God isn’t necessarily abstract in the formal sense, it almost never resolves to a simplistic answer. ‘God is now a power plant’ - which the filmmaker claims to be its logline – does not want to give out much either. Yet there is a surreal way the progression of images works out. The structure is not there to give a narrative clarity but somehow to dig deeper in its symbolic representations. It reminds one of the Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux for the same – beyond the striking visual resemblance.
But the over tonal montages seem to be derived more from the likes of David Lynch (whom the director San Martín also claims to be one of her inspirations). What we loosely refer to as ‘mood’ or ‘atmosphere’- the apparent eeriness and the presence of constant horror and suspense as its key themes – almost as a sign of an incoming apocalypse or the wrath of God - makes for an enormously engaging piece. There are symbolic representations in respect to deconstructing God as a concept while placing it as a character (which, in this concept, is a power plant). Resultantly, it is a mood-piece worth revisiting – to find every part of the puzzle even more purposeful to the whole narrative – to get a grasp of how the rhythm is achieved, from the overarching chaos to the resulting silence. Perhaps the very ‘feeling’ of the film can guide one towards understanding it.
The Nap (La Siesta)
Dir. Federico Luis Tachella
Federico Luis Tachella’s film tries to make one think beyond the constraints and predetermined notions related to sexuality. While Monster God elaborated on ramifications of God, ‘La Siesta’ seems largely to be about the exploration of sex and its different facets. Within its establishing shots, we get why the short-film would have been lauded as a daring attempt. It makes a sharp editing choice which takes the viewers into a world - where seemingly strange ideas are not so strange for the ones involved. What looks like a gathering from a nudist colony does not raise any brows. That is the foundation of this short where elderly women speak about spiritual or highly casual endeavours while being completely naked. And that is just one of the bold decisions that the short film takes.
The Nap depicts certain scenarios in a disjointed manner while trying to blend reality and subjective fantasy. We see an Argentinean household where a queer girl lives with her grandmother. There is an extremely open environment where the age-difference does not reflect in their dialogue. The old lady is asked to be a muse for her granddaughter’s romantic partner, who is just as free-spirited. And the girl somehow manages to get a company for her grandmother – a young, muscular guy, whom she soon engages within almost a dreamlike sequence filled with intimacy. While there is still ambivalence from my part to whether the overt casualness is a sane choice or not, ‘The Nap’ deserves a viewing solely for the organic execution of insanely bold ideas. Perhaps normalizing more openness irrespective of the ‘kind of bodies’ one engages with - is all there is take away from this sensuous snippet.
The Jump (Le Grand Saut)
Dir. Nicolas Davenel, Vanessa Dumont
‘Le Grand Saut’ takes several bold editing decisions – bold in the sense of strikingly visible. Switching back and forth between what is and what could be, the film keeps gravitating towards the life of 22-year old Alain Demaria – who belongs to the working class from France. We are made to encounter the lateral shifts from his past, present and aspirations with equally radical decisions in terms of camera footage–by switching between grainy/handy cam shoots to the glaringly hypnotic beauty shots.
Yet, it oddly finds a balance while trying to get under the skin of the young adults who daringly attempt jumping in the waters of Marseille from great heights – who are living on the fringes of society, sunk knee-deep in crime. As a result of hard upbringing, they are left with a harsh childhood. They would rather erase all their memories if not for the jump – that gives them a sense of identity – an outward thrill – a moment of heroic triumph – or more importantly, an escape from their daily chaotic lives. Thus, the jump does not remain just an exciting endeavour. It makes a hero out of them among the peers – which Alain is a striking example of.
He is an incredibly normal individual – who wouldn’t have been recognised if not for incredible passion for ‘the jump’. And within the 13 minutes of the duration, the directing duo is able to carve a synonymous experience that gives this activity – an ethereal quality. The way it chooses to show his present with zero superficiality – but only through his outlook through mundane conversation – goes on with the aforementioned lateral shifts that serve a purpose for the narrative. It is one of the better documentative portraits I have come across from the recent past.
Dir. Yona Rozenkier
A family drama from a kibbutz (community from Israel) - the clashes between different generations – the lack of communication – ‘Parparim’ presents all of it. The narrative revolves around a significant incident from the lives of the three family members - where a flock of ‘butterflies’ acts not just as a sign of joy but as an embodiment of it. Throughout its duration, the family seems to struggle to find a moment to breath – which seems to carry around some kind of burden. The elephant in the room is never explicitly addressed– and their behavioural changes feel real to us irrespective of that. The short-film successfully achieves the universality of family-structure where the silences act as a device to guide us through their narratives.
‘Parparim’ finds its sentimentality without overly sentimental techniques. There is a constant effort to ignore the presence of sadness or to cover it with an overarching joyfulness. The bittersweet moments are incredibly organic as a result of such an acute understanding that even the measly eight minutes can evoke an array of emotions. The choices are very precise in terms of the number of scenes making the final cut or about the camera angles. Oded Ashkenazi’s cinematography focuses on how the emotions of the family members unfold the narrative. That makes the pleasing shots even more appealing since we see the landscape through their eyes.
(Some parts of the review of ‘Parparim’ are pre-published on another online platform)
To be continued…