TIFF’s Short Cuts Canada Program #3 is thematically centered around communication in relationships and to me is a mixed bag with few that are enjoyable and a bunch that falls short of expectations. The ones that work well here operate on a less is more model for the ones that don’t work tries too hard to overstuff the film in their allotted time or is stretched a bit too far that the filmmakers lose focus of what they’re trying to achieve. My favourite of the program is Lost in Motion by Ben Shirinian featuring Guillaume Côté, a principal dancer from the National Ballet of Canada. Côté in his beautifully choreographed dance personifies the emotions that run through any serious practicing artist or performer with his restriction-free movements acting as a glimpse of what any artist tries to achieve. When the curtain finally opens, there is an emphasis on how important it is to persevere by honing your craft and to put on your best performance no matter how big or small an audience. It’s also a great visual representation of how artists are constantly being stripped down to expose all vulnerabilities, to be judged by the world on a regular basis in order to proceed and this resonates heavily with me as someone who have studied the performing arts. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome with a run time of under four minutes.
Le future proche (The Near Future) by Sophie Goyette features some amazing cinematography of beautiful landscapes as a way of showing the audience a sense of solace for the internal pain of a flight pilot. The length of the film coupled with long absences of anything eventful allows for the audience to feel the hollowness of the central character. Matching the grim despair of the aerial view is occasionally a voiceover by the pilot describing his pain in shallow chunks that’s complemented by the hauntingly beautiful score. For the impatient, the film will be a chore but these feelings of anxiety and a want of salvation are exactly what this film is trying to demonstrate. Dylan Riebling’s Model, a film without dialogue, is a nice and playful look on man versus machine and the inevitable of obsolete methodologies that can’t keep up with our ever-growing pace. Ironically shot in silent-film era aesthetics, it is also a subtle stab at the city’s growing number of quickly built second-rate condos. Marie-Ève Juste‘s Avec Jeff à moto [With Jeff] takes us into the world of Nydia underplayed nicely by Laury Verdieu, whose quiet attributes and responsibilities to her family define her. When a moment of spontaneity to break loose comes upon her in the form of motorcycle riding and womanizing Jeff, she takes it uncaring of the consequences it may bring. The length could be trimmed and the ending will feel empty for some but the film works as a good example of showing how the needs of the self should not be neglected and that every once in a while we should all step out of our comfort zone, even if the result is finding out that it doesn’t meet expectations.
There are three films in this program that I was looking forward to bit ended up not hitting all expectations; Martin Thibaudeau‘s Reflexion, Mike Clattenberg’s Crackin’ Down Hard and Dusty Mancinelli’s Broken Heart Syndrome. In Reflexions, a family is at the funeral of the man of the house and the film possesses some neat camera work and art direction that’s attractive albeit a bit shouty in tone. Reflected surfaces such as shiny cars, coat buttons, mirrors and so forth are used to expose skeletons in the closet for each living family member. It’s clever and would’ve worked better if the score is more subtle than the soaring melodramatics that we get. The one thing that takes away from the film big time is the funny looking tombstone, which set off warning alarms in my head from the beginning. I can forgive artificial construction but this was too contrived and ultimately its purpose was too hokey. With Crackin’ Down Hard, we see a young man played by Nicolas Wright trying to enjoy the peace and quiet only to be interrupted by a pimp played by Yoursie Thomas. Their initial interaction is great stuff, with a humourous back and forth on manners and racial tensions but when the ending rolls around, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been had. The punchline comes way out of left field and leaves no sense of satisfaction or admiration for any of the characters. Broken Heart Syndrome has a great premise, depicting a common feeling everyone knows as an ailment for comedic satire. It’s cute at first, allowing us to laugh at ourselves for ever going through the ridiculousness that is the angst of being heartbroken but it stretches itself quite a bit toward the end without any real payoff.
Then there’s 100 Musicians by Charles Officer, featuring a couple played by Rainbow Francks and Abena Malika who argue over what a radio DJ says on air about Rob Ford’s plans; hire 100 musicians or 100 policemen for 15 million dollars. The short is supposed to teach the audience a lesson about communication, that to actually listen is different from simply hearing. The female lead believes the DJ said Rob Ford will hire 100 musicians while her lover says otherwise. She then proceeds to patronize and chew him a new one, accusing him of being pessimistic for not agreeing with how the idea of 100 musicians is a great one when that’s not even the point in the first place. Perhaps you can argue that she is unfamiliar with the politics of Toronto as her character claims to have been away from her lover but anyone who knows Rob Ford, supporter or otherwise, would’ve demonstrated how she’s wrong in hearing what she thinks she did. So we either get a male character who can’t talk his way out of a simple pointless argument or a female that’s completely unlikeable but regardless, the audiences is left something convoluted with a tacked on message that makes no sense within the context of the narrative.
Program 4 is a group of shorts depicting people and their environment and how this interaction symbolizes other issues that are in their lives. Elizabeth Lazebnik’s Safe Room and Ashley McKenzie’s When You Sleep are examples of this. With Safe Room taking place during the Gulf War, a family of three and their dog are trapped indoors and must bide their time in the middle of Isreal under chemical attacks. The situation demands everyone involved to become an adult and the audience sees the situations and events unfold through the lens of the central character, a young girl, where it’s seemingly a game at first before events get dire. The film is a wonderful look at how we take our childhood for granted and how we lose touch of the perceptions of the young as we age. With When You Sleep, the environment again becomes symbolism for the unprepared mentalities of youth. We see a young, likely teenage, couple living in a shoddy apartment in the slums where the inside is so filthy that taking a step in and breathing would make you unclean. We don’t know how this couple got here or why they are there but it’s clear that there is much tension, much of what’s shown caused by the girl who is completely dependent on the guy but can’t stand the sight of him at the same time. For some reason, he is tied to her as well for despite her proclaiming that no one’s forcing him to stay, he does. On the outside are noises of children playing but unlike them, this young couple have no adults to shelter and guide them through the immediate future and the hardships that bring. The visual parallels between the space and the inevitable emotional explosion will undoubtedly make anyone reevaluate themselves on any level that can lead them in the direction we see this couple going. Also worth noting on that stream is Reem Morsi’s Waleematehorn (Their Feast). Set in Egypt, the film tries to humanize the politics of the 2011 revolution by showing us a family preparing a glorious welcome home dinner to celebrate the release of the eldest son from imprisonment during the old regime. They go through various obstacles, including their friends and neighbours patronizing their situation. Made with substance over style, the sincerity of the story makes up for certain faults such as the acting.
The Worst Day Ever by Sophie Jarvis shows us the cheeky Bernard, played by Jakob Davies, as he goes through one cruel misfortune after another. This is as close to a live-action Charlie Brown I’ve seen that’s not part of the Broadway musical except there’s no uplifting musical number that will make everything okay. It does well to show how much of an impact the little things we take for granted can have on a child for just as a tiny spark of joy can rush through them in epic proportions, so can the smallest speck of guilt be as if the world has fallen. One must also wonder if director Jarvis has a jar of flying bugs that she keeps on set to throw at the young lad as a way for him to method act. Just on a note with the “villains”, I can accept the justifications of their over-exaggerated reactions based on their roles but not for the parents. There’s no logic with how they behave – they just seem like really cruddy parents and that diminishes the impact of satire the director is trying to achieve for it just adds to the overall negative mood. The film is darkly comic to a fault for the audience is supposed to laugh along Bernard’s unpleasantries, but it’s hard to do so because it’s just too sad to watch. Similarly, with Kelvin Redvers’ The Dancing Cop where a man is brutally beaten by an overzealous police officer for a crime he didn’t commit, it feels like a never-ending battle where a win is unattainable and like The Worst Day Ever, it is sad to see. Unlike that film though is that there’s no new or forgotten knowledge presented here – police brutality exists and it is depressing and hammering home the fact that there’s nothing you can do about it doesn’t help matters.
I enjoyed Jeanne Leblanc‘s Sullivan’s Applicant very much. Though the middle might come off as a bit too fairy tale for some, I think it does really well in incorporating the location, in this case downtown Montreal, into the narrative. Judith Baribeau is wonderful in her role as someone trying to navigate downtown rush hour traffic to get to a job interview and upon viewing, it just reinforces my thoughts on why I would never drive in downtown Toronto no matter how bad our transit system is. Road rage, confusing routes that go in circles and the inability to do anything but completely focus on the road aside, it also highlights how we as people just can’t properly plan for travel time with our lead needing to get to that interview with minutes to spare. Sure, in Toronto the TTC is constantly delayed but I never go out of my way to give myself twice the amount of time it takes to get somewhere because living close to downtown means I should not have to take an hour or more to get down there. It’s a nice nod to how every once in a while we all just need to step back and take a breath to reevaluate our situations, no matter how tense it seems. I also like how a relationship is formed in the middle of the short in ways that you won’t see in a Toronto setting and seeing such a difference is refreshing. I really hope this one makes the Top Ten at the end of the year.
Jeremy Ball’s Frost takes the concept of one’s relationship with the environment to the extreme. Produced by the CFC, Frost is a dystopian science-fiction thriller and a wonderful visual treat, making great use of the experience director Ball has picked up from working with directors like Zhang Yimou. Here a young artic hunter named Naya, played with absolute grace by Emily Piggford, in search of food, which is dwindling in amount for her and her family. Frost also does well in not taking itself too seriously or overstuffing it in it’s 13 minute run-time. Do we need to know how this world is formed? No and it certainly doesn’t need the story padding that some other reviews say it needs. Not knowing these details don’t hurt the film. A perfect synchronization of art direction, cinematography and visual effects that gives a unique flavour to the standard coming-of-age tale, the result is a film that will surely be a crowd pleaser.
Program #3 plays tonight (Monday, September 10) at 6:45pm and again on Tuesday, September 11 at 12:15pm. Program #4 starts this Tuesday, September 11 at 6:30pm and replays on Wednesday, September 12 at 4:45pm. All shorts programs are playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.