LOVE IS SHORT | 5 short films for February
The Romanian public has more and more limited access to short films due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic, lower possibilities of screening them in adequate cinema rooms, and the disappearance of a film festival such as NexT. So I chose five short films that discuss the matter of love tangentially, whether fulfilled or platonic, encountering obstacles, either in heterosexual or non-heteronormative relationships, in the light of the approaching Valentine’s Day.
Catavento, dir. João Rosas
(Portugal, 2020, 40’)
After Entrecampos (2012) and Maria do Mar (2015), director João Rosas resumes Nicolau’s character five years later. Played by Francisco Melo, Nicolau is now 18 years old and is at that stage where he has to make decisions that will affect his adult life. He oscillates between choosing a pragmatic career, with more professional opportunities, and biology, but the choice is made difficult especially by the urge to impress a girl he thinks he has fallen in love with. Carlota, a girl with a superior social condition, is the opposite of him: assertive and mature, far more experienced in the ways of love. The protagonist’s infatuation goes to such lengths that her plans become his own, deciding to attend a management school.
A Portuguese reflection of Antoine Doinel, Nicolau develops emotionally by accumulating information but failing to put it into practice. Curious by nature, he asks everybody around him all kinds of questions and expects to receive answers that will give him the much sought-after purpose in life. Going through his experimenting stage, the camera accompanies the young man who gets carried away with every female presence in the film, often in the midst of the lush vegetation of a park where most of his interactions take place, or on the beach; imagining a different future with each one of them. In a scene representative of the character and for mixing professional with personal, Nicolau literally scans, alongside the camera, all the girls in a library, attributing fictitious interests to them. The images exude a Rohmerian nostalgia, with romantic walks on the beach and the predominantly green color palette, Nicolau’s indecisiveness being reminiscent of the moral stories that inspired the French director. Analytical and betrayed by body language, with his shoulders all slumped, Nicolau stubbornly tries to tailor a love story, but his character seems to be more attracted to the idea of love than to its materialization. João Rosas brings back a naturalism that seemed forgotten through the vitality of youth and the uncertainties that come with it, and the sequel can only arouse an interest close to the anticipation of Linklaterian romanticism.
Symbiosis, dir. Nadja Andrasev
(France, Hungary, 2019, 13’)
Symbiosis is the only animation on the list and mixes 2D techniques, photography and collage to illustrate the investigative work of a woman cheated on by her partner. Her jealousy turns into curiosity and an exploration of femininity, bodies and sexuality. With a fluidity that exudes sensuality, Nadja Andrasev’s style works by progressively accumulating the eroticism of the characters, adding organic layers claimed from the animal world. The opening scene sets the tone of this espionage, the protagonist following one of the suspected mistresses with an unhealthy fascination. With a poker face and a conscientiousness oriented towards the infamous evidence of infidelities, such as strands of hair belonging to another, messages at odd hours, or suspicious changes in the partner’s behavior, Symbiosis exposes the stereotypes of male infidelity almost encyclopedically.
The similarities with the animal habitat go so far that one of the affairs takes place in a zoo, taking the competition for a partner to a completely different level: that of competition between females, where the strongest specimen in the animal kingdom wins. It is no coincidence that more and more Lepidoptera (insect order that includes butterflies) make an appearance in the film; the protagonist seems to develop a voyeuristic mania comparable to John Fowles’ Collector, the souvenirs of the affairs being labeled and categorized accurately. The aesthetics of transparency, with fluid spaces separated by large windows and translucent walls, also contributes to the Insectarium analogy. Adding suspense, the protagonist mimics the behavior of a predator waiting for the right moment to launch into an attack. However, the confrontation is long overdue, the director steering the clichés towards a much more complex resolution than that of defining the female identity through a relationship. The obsession with comparisons arouses interest in self-knowledge and acceptance.
The film can be watched online here.
Yulia & Juliet, dir. Zara Dwinger
(Netherlands, 2018, 11’)
A remake of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Yulia & Juliet follows the forbidden love story between two teenage girls in a juvenile detention center. Of course, the different context and the obvious change in what regards the sexuality of the protagonists bring the script to the present, but the outline remains the same; two opposite personalities, belonging to opposite social classes, nurture feelings for each other despite all obstacles. With cinematography reminiscent of Andrea Arnold and favoring close-ups, the contrast between the two characters is visually intensified: Yulia (played by the excellent Sara Luna Zoric, the protagonist of Ena Sendijarevic’s feature film debut, Take Me Somewhere Nice) is rebellious, impulsive, has her hair dyed in pink and does not hesitate to say what she thinks; Julia (Dylan Jongejans, a non-professional actress), on the other hand, is an introverted and quiet blonde. The setting fuels the sense of confinement and clandestinity of the relationship, the details of the juvenile center being largely hidden by the depth of field and poor lighting. The girls look for each other in group sports activities, through the bars of an obscure stairwell, communicating through the ventilation system. Zara Dwinger omits the context that brought the two protagonists into detention and focuses strictly on how a love story can bloom in precarious conditions. Juliet’s release triggers a series of actions that lead to a memorable finale, suggesting through transition the strong connection between the two girls.
Undress Me, dir. Victor Lindgren
(Sweden, 2013, 15’)
Winner of the Teddy Award for Best Short Film at the Berlinale in 2013, Undress Me begins with the typical scene of being picked up in a bar. The chemistry between the two protagonists is palpable, and everything seems to lead to a typical one-night stand. Visibly aroused, the two leave the bar to go to Mikaela’s (Jana Bringlöv Ekspong) place. The guy quickly realizes that the girl is different in a way that can only be explained by the sex change operation that the protagonist underwent. Despite the revelation that Mikaela is transgender, the two go to her house, where a foray into the other’s sexuality takes place. His questions are direct, sometimes mixed with a curiosity that oscillates between fascination and repulsion. It’s remarkable how despite the contradictory feelings, the man cannot stop touching, analyzing, and exploring Mikaela’s body at the same time, in a kind of (re)confirmation of his own masculinity. Although his comments are close to phobia, the protagonist maintains a dignified, confident posture. Suggestively, the undressing does not reveal her but exposes him, in all his vulnerability before a stranger to whom he is inexplicably attracted. The man is constantly asking for reconfirmations, a sign that the meeting is also revelatory for the (self)discovery of his masculinity. Although it overflows with eroticism, the camera does not linger on the genitals but rather explores through the direction of their gaze the bodies that define us. Victor Lindgren manages to avoid the cliché approach of Mikaela as a victim, moving the center of gravity from him to her. If we progressively see how the perspective turns from arousal to objectification, paradoxically his interest in her increases.
The film can be watched online here.
Ellen Is Leaving, dir. Michelle Savill
(New Zealand, 2012, 15’)
At first sight, Ellen and Hamish portray a New Zealand couple as much in love as ever, but the twist is that she is going on a trip to Europe. Michelle Savill chooses to explore the very moment of the parting of two people who still love each other despite the narrative development of a long-distance relationship. Less plausible, among the travel arrangements that the protagonist makes to leave everything in order, is also finding a girlfriend substitute for Hamish. The strong connection between the two is shown even before they interact in front of the camera through the small gestures they make for each other. In a tender scene, Ellen discovers the meaning of the gifts Hamish has prepared for her travels, trifles of sentimental value that show how well he knows her. In the logic of the film, it is understandable why the protagonist wants to find a replacement, the diffused lighting emotionally charging the interactions between the two and making the imminent separation palpably painful. Small gestures of sharing their daily routine, such as clipping their nails or sharing a shower in the morning, are scenes that show affection in familiarity. Michelle Savill excels at creating the atmosphere by building a shared universe in such a way that finding a girlfriend substitute comes as a continuation of a love story that neither of them wants to end.