On Sunday 8th October, I was given the opportunity to watch the second session of shorts presented by the Nottingham International Film Festival. These shorts presented journeys of self-discovery, reflections on time and relationships, and the tough facts of modern life. While there were some shared themes, each film was decidedly individual, and the tones varied hugely from sombre to jovial.
New Age, Olde English
Opening the day’s features, ‘New Age, Olde English’ was a sharply humorous short about a serial killer and his well-spoken victims. While it was fairly predictable, the dialogue was extremely well-written, and helped lift the slightly lacklustre story from mediocrity.
The overuse of fade-outs in the beginning meant the film started off feeling slightly sluggish, but it gained momentum as the car sped down the highway with its two charismatic passengers. Unfortunately, the sweet spot of linguistically smooth dialogue only lasts for the middle of the film, and the excitement wilts in its final third. The ending itself, while totally unexpected, felt a little cheap in comparison to the high points of the film. If taken as a metaphor for the Hollywood dream, the film works pretty well, but alone it sits just above average.
My Pretty Pony
The second film of the session told the moving story of a grandfather’s words of wisdom to his young grandson. The cinematography is incredibly well done, featuring stunning shots of glorious vistas, galloping horses and greenery. This majestically frames a story reflecting on legacy, time and fulfilment. The score intertwines with the imagery so well that the film feels as if it should have been an A-list feature-length, and in this regard the film almost feels as if it should have been longer.
However, its abruptness does solidify the film’s bittersweet tone, and reinforces the overall message about the devastating pace with which life passes us by. The acting from both the grandson and grandfather was phenomenal, and made for a truly touching piece of art.
‘Jonah’ tells parallel tales of refugee migration in the 1930’s and today. Both stories, which repeatedly cut between the two time periods, focus on refugees in the back of vans trying to cross borders safely. The film is one of tentative hope on both sides, tied together with simultaneous narration of the tale of Jonah and the whale – an attempt to comfort young children in both parties.
The morose ending hits hard, and leaves a lasting impact; the film delivers its messages about a need to commemorate the past and question our present actions and attitudes, in a succinct and bold way. The cinematography is tastefully executed, and the costumes are particularly well crafted, contributing to feeling of unease, stress and exasperation.
The acting is top-notch, countering the spatial confinements of the setting with striking, emotive performances. The film operates more like a disbelieving question than a statement, asking: have we learned nothing from our dark past?
The Sled opens with establishing shots that immediately set the quiet, reserved tone of the film, as the camera glides through a snowy Italian landscape that seems simultaneously remote and alive with secrets. The first encounter with the central family feels extremely well-crafted and believable, tactfully introducing the sense of political disquiet without the need for unwarranted sensation.
The film offers a refreshingly unique perspective on the age-old tale of childhood innocence and friendship conquering socially-taught racism and division. The use of chronological back-and-forth cutting is expertly utilised to tell a rich, deeply emotional story in a short amount of time, and the characters feel fully fleshed out by their idiosyncratic activities – the mother vacantly staring out into the woods; the father’s grimace as he angrily chops firewood.
The story is told best through these subtle actions and gestures, leaving the dialogue feeling almost superfluous.
When I’ll Be Gone
French short ‘When I’ll Be Gone’ is a charismatic, bittersweet piece of cinema that starts off feeling somewhat cliche – with the classic ‘plucky young woman in a rush brushes her teeth in the car’ – but evolves into something decidedly beautiful. The piece oscillates between sweat-ily energetic moments and scenes of contemplative calm. It forces the viewer to reflect on our own tendency to put off that which we fear to face, and does so through solid acting and tasteful cinematography.
The open, snowy roads contrast the tightly-packed car, and we get the sense that the characters’ spirits are being caged and crushed – as they physically are, within their cramped vehicle – by circumstance. This is a truly unique take on the road trip movie, and though the brother is nowhere near as captivating as his zany sister, we feel a surprising amount of sentiment for them both, come the credits.
Jack and Jill
If ‘Thelma and Louise’ met ‘From Dusk ’Til Dawn’ (but with fewer vampires), this would be the result; ‘Jack and Jill’ is a thrilling adventure in the lives of two part-time prostitutes who are determined to make their weekend one to remember. The quick-cutting camerawork and vivid colour palette illustrate the sense of sexuality and urgency to live fast and party hard in this instantly-memorable flick.
It’s a refreshing change to see a film of such rampant carnality featuring two female leads, particularly two so well-suited to their roles. Their performances compliment the general narrative and visual strength of the piece, which rotates around the often-forgotten seedy underbelly of suburban Americana. The film is peppered with symbolism and subtext, like the commercialised sexuality of sex-toy shopping, and the references to bizarre incest dreams. Subtle moments of absurdity like those amount to a truly entertaining cinematic experience.
‘Pregnant Pause’ explores the uncertain moment of a pregnancy scare. The premise is nothing new, but the journey that follows is unusual; the girl finds intrigue and temptation as she takes a contemplative bike ride through city streets. The film’s strengths lie in its amazingly accurate, comic portrayal of urban life. The battered street signs and run-down shops the protagonist whizzes past, and the jarring colours, crying babies and sleeping pensioners of the hospital ER create a distinctly relatable, fully-developed setting.
In order for a film in which very little happens to work, however, the characters need to grip us, and unfortunately the characters in ‘Pregnant Pause’ lack the presence of the setting in which they exist. The character of the affable party-boy stranger brings curious charm to the film, but overall, it fails to explore its characters and themes as much as it had the conceptual potential to.
The cinematic content of ‘Cul-De-Sac’ is cleverly aligned with its title: it is cyclical, dead-ended, and there is a mundane sense of ambiguous continuation of the protagonist’s flaws and struggles. The opening and closing aerial shots set the tone of circumstantial confinement, and the need for something more than oneself in the rigid spatial structure of city life. The claustrophobic closeness of the car interior contributes tactfully to the feeling of being caged in a life not chosen.
Though both main actors are intriguing in their own ways, they lack chemistry as a pair, and their dialogue feels unnatural. Their conversation does, however, reach moments of both humour and pathos, as the protagonist’s introverted despair peeks through the cracks in his nonchalant exterior. Despite the incohesive casting, the film remains a darkly captivating piece of cinema.
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Image Courtesy of Breakneck Films