Sunday, June 3, 2012

WSFF 2012: Reviews #2

Reviews of screenings from the 2012 CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF), Toronto, Canada.

Celebrity Shorts

Screens: Thursday June 7, 7:45 pm @ The Bloor Cinema

The Short Take: Roll out the short red carpet — these all include some familiar faces. This is actually a relatively strong iteration of this programme: the good stuff was top-notch, and and there was only one here that rubbed me the wrong way.


The End (Dir: Didier Barcelo, France, 2011, 17 minutes) They must be words any actor dreads most: "Everyone says she's the new Charlotte Rampling." Well, Rampling isn't going to accept this without a fight, especially when she realizes it's not just new roles that are being taken from her. Flipping past one of her old films on TV, she discovers that a younger actor has been inserted in her place, creating a sense of metaphysical dislocation that moves from confusion to anger. In the time of the Tupac hologram and similar interventions, this is a timely consideration of what happens when we digitally re-write the past. (There's also a wonderful sequence where Rampling storms into a soundstage, only to see several key scenes from her films being redone without her — the fact that I didn't recognize them all made me wonder how powerful this could be — a rare instance where I was left thinking how well this concept would work in a Hollywood remake with the right casting.)

The Voorman Problem (Dir: Mark Gill, United Kingdom, 2011, 13 minutes) A psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) is assigned to deal with a prisoner (Tom Hollander) who thinks he's a god — or, actually, "God". The nervous warden explains that the other inmates are starting to believe, and soon even the psychiatrist's calm air of superiority is shattered as he matches wits with the prisoner. This is a comedy, by the way, and a rather fine one — as long as you're not too emotionally attached to Belgium.

Butterflies (Dir: Sandro Miller, United States, 2011, 2 minutes) A minute-long adrenalized burst (the credits take up almost as much time!) gains some cred (and feels even spookier) with the creepy presence of John Malkovich. All twitchy energy and melt-y frames, this feels like a piece of 80's video art redone for the digital age. Sort of similar to sticking a finger in a light socket — it's a quick jolt, but memorable.


The Carrier (Dir: Scott Schaeffer, United States, 2011, 18 minutes) After a capricious twist of fate, a mother (Rita Wilson) is forced to tie up the loose ends left dangling by her deceased son, including some rather unpleasant disclosures to his many ex-lovers. Wilson plays it with deep stoicism, and the screenplay tries to hint at some resonances between her character's past and her son's irresponsibility, but the whole thing just feels fake-y and not believable at any level. At no point did I feel like I was watching anything other than an acting exercise.


Friend Request Pending (Dir: Chris Foggin, United Kingdom, 2011, 12 minutes) At some level, we never stop being awkward teenagers, especially when that first burst of attraction gets played out in real-world interactions. This one is powered by a wonderful performance from Judi Dench as an older woman navigating the rules of attraction in the facebook age. Proof positive that good acting is reacting, this is totally compelling as we watch Dench's Mary (who isn't too far removed from As Time Goes By's Jean Mary) typing instant messages. A real charmer.

Pitch Black Heist (Dir: John Maclean, United Kingdom, 2011, 13 minutes) A stylish caper, the title here refers not only to the crime's m.o. (to foil a light-sensitive alarm, the job must be done in complete darkness), but also its dry comedic tone. Two mismatched thieves memorize the layout at length and then unwind before the job, sharing their life stories — and when the heist is complete, there's a final illumination.

Blitzen Trapper Massacre (Dir: Joshua Homnick/Rainn Wilson, United States, 2011, 7 minutes) A pleasant lark (which is probably also a reasonable description of Pacific Northwest rockers Blitzen Trapper) this features Rainn Wilson playing a fictionalized, über-fan version of himself. He shows up backstage, ready to jam with his musical heroes, and what happens when he's rebuffed is evident from the title. A goofy bit of fun.

The Beaufort Diaries (Dir: Alex Petrowsky, United States, 2011, 4 minutes) David Duchovny's deadpan narration hits about the right tone in this animated retelling of the Hollywood story, following the ups and downs of a polar bear's brush with the glamourous life. Vaguely enjoyable, it was a bit of a run-on sentence that doesn't leave a deep impression.

Sci-Fi: Out There

Screens: Saturday June 9, 9:15 pm @ The Bloor Cinema

The Short Take: I'd found last year's sci-fi programme to lean a bit too heavily toward empty special effects displays, so I was very pleased to see that strong stories dominated here. Well-curated, this one comes recommended.


Tumult (Dir: Johnny Barrington, United Kingdom, 2011, 13 minutes) As the last remnants of a Viking horde nurse their wounds on the trek back home after battle, they encounter a fantastic travelling vessel. Is it a chariot to take the ailing king to the next world, or some sort of devilish trick? To avoid spoiling this, I shan't say any more, but this is a tremendously fun excursion.

Pioneer (Dir: David Lowery, United States, 2011, 16 minutes) It doesn't get any simpler than this. A man (musician Will Oldham) comforts his son who has just awakened from a nightmare, telling him a bedtime story that's closer to Blood Meridian than Little House on the Prairie. Despite being little more than a static monologue, this effectively evokes an uncanny sense of dislocation, touching on love, loss and mourning. Superb work.

88:88 (Dir: Joey Ciccoline, United States, 2012, 14 minutes) Val arrives home with supplies and begins a singleminded series of renovations involving locks and cables. Something is seriously wrong, and there's an uneasy feeling as she secures herself in bed with chains and winches. After she falls asleep, the clock strikes 88:88 and something starts to happen. This one creates an effectively foreboding sense of atmosphere.


There were no pans at this programme!


Codes Of Honor (Dir: Jon Rafman, Canada, 2011, 14 minutes) The unusual formal elements of this documentary — we spend a lot of the time following the protagonist's avatar through a virtual reality world — make perfect sense, given that the topic is the world of competitive video gaming. The narrative is a reflection on past glories: what do you do after you've literally beaten the game? Interesting, though it might seem totally opaque if you're not coming to this with a fair amount of knowledge about this subculture — it'll all make sense if you've spent a few hundred hours in an arcade or have seen The King of Kong.

Sudd (Out Of Erasers) (Dir: Erik Rosenlund, Sweden/Denmark, 2011, 15 minutes) Shot in stylish black and white, this nearly wordless feature tracks one woman's encounter with a creeping menace, slowly engulfing everything it encounters. Pick your assimilationist metaphor here, but this one is susceptible to erasers — too bad they're in short supply. Done with a creepy rotoscope-style effect, this pessimistic fable will pulsate in your mind even after it's done.

Sedare (Dir: Adnan Ahmed/Nadir Shah, Pakistan, 2012, 15 minutes) Worse than any of Pakistan's troubles that you might have read about in the papers is this speculative story about a plague of monster-ish "carriers" sweeping across the nation. The only thing that keeps the affliction at bay is a patch being profitably sold by a large pharmaceutical corporation. The film follows an intrepid reporter trying to untangle their motivations and possible culpability. This short feels more like the opening chapter of a longer arc than a complete standalone story, and there's not much here that we haven't seen before, but it's made with verve, and there's potential here for this to unfold as an interesting metaphor for events in its country.

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