The Little ShortsUP Picnic in four short films

2 August, 2020

Let me be honest – as someone who’s never been to one of the ShortsUP short film picnics, I approached this year’s online edition without having any expectations. The verdict? A very pleasant surprise due to a selection which – should we give credit to the organizers – began by rounding up intense films from the very start, specially prepared for those who have missed the festival season. And especially for the youths, if I were to say so, when I take a look at the various stories that I quickly went through in less than two hours, most of them approaching various moods and transitional existential thresholds, which surround big changes. Stopping for breath and thinking that I fit the above age gap pretty well, I went along with it and selected four ShortsUP shorts that are a perfect fit for my cinephile diary.

 A film about the cruelty of childhood

For this year’s edition, I also took a look at films with sociological ambitions, mutilated by the transition from paper (where they “sounded” good) towards the screen (where they “looked” like a Kinder chocolate commercial – a young mother overcome by domestic responsibilities who just wants to take some time off for herself – or a Vodafone one – teenagers that break up in a dark visual setup and a teary soundtrack). But here’s a film, Fauve (dir. Jeremy Comte) which offers exactly what one wishes from a kind of cinema that is both honest and self-assured: a harsh and dry story that is just like a calcified valley, as abrupt as a funnel, in which two kids jokingly begin to spar, in games which they believe to be inconsequential. There’s no trace of sentimentalism in Comte’s vision (except for the rather pointless final shot): on the other hand, he has a real knowledge of dramaturgic efficiency, which is capable to make way, if needed, for a voluptuousness that can measure the surroundings and their secretive atmosphere. The film’s force lies precisely in its very simple idea that today’s cinema means nothing more than bodies in a given setting: here, the kids’ bodies are masking their fragilities behind an infantile form of bravado, and the setting – a post-industrial land that has fallen in disrepair, with phantom trains and abandoned quarries – never intervenes in an overwhelming manner, so that it would distract our eyes from the drama that it is hosting. I like the way in which Comte generously delivers suspense, expending it to the point that it arches over the entire film. Children play with fire so many times, catching themselves and each other up in traps. Will they get burnt, in the end?

Still from Fauve. Credits: ShortsUP

Two animations about love and sexuality

Couple life, with all of its derivative complications – this is what seems to be this edition’s strongest topic. Two animations take this subject on quite frontally, starting from the cell of the domestic family onto the paths of other territories, and the further the better. The first one, Toomas Beneath the Valley of Wild Wolves (dir. Chintis Lundgren), is dangerously close to the style of Minimax (does this channel even exist anymore?), with animals walking upright, that own suburban houses and leave for their corporate jobs every morning. The second one, Shit Happens (dir. Mihaela Mihalyi, David Stumpf), is rather more of a Cartoon Network-style gig (same). But let’s not hurry into this, however, because these are films aimed at an adult audience (I almost wrote adult-themed, which wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, considering the ambitions which these films are touting), meaning films that hide their boldness and their theses behind conventional aesthetics.

The first has every single chance to become a film that is studied in identity politics classes at some Western university or another, as it proposes a fable about genders, roles, and societal deviations. Its merit is not to shy away from a sarcastic critique, one which doesn’t leave anyone unscathed. Just add some (cinephilic) salt and some (feminist) pepper and you might unknowingly end up with a flammable cocktail, in which the head of the family ends up unemployed and becomes a gigolo in order to make ends meet, and the housewife emancipates herself in a hardcore way, whip-in-hand. I’ll let you decide if these decisions really function properly as a form of couple therapy, or not. As for the second film, the sexual frustration from a marriage unexpectedly reverberates in the small world that the film imagines, where the man is a janitor in a no-holds-barred nightclub, and the woman is looking for a little bit of satisfaction with the help of a cucumber dipped in sauce. Things wrap up in a circular and natural fashion after they pass through a couple of very inventive storylines, which come together at the seams and produce small coincidental sparks, just like in a Gus Van Sant movie.

Captură de ecran din Se întâmplă. Sursa: ShortsUP

 A film about the 2020 quarantine

I was suspecting that every little film that was made during the pandemic, with the meager means that they had at their disposal, was one which would be constrained to answer one single, definitive question: is it possible to create a quarantined fiction, and if so, how fast can one reach its limits? I found a few possible answers to this question, on a local level, at the European Film Festival, where it became quite clear to me that the four walls of a home are rarely satisfactory when it comes to their conduciveness for fiction and reverie. A different answer is posed by Now You Know (dir. Rogelio), which regards a quarantine spent in Barcelona. Now I know that the home movies about quarantine – which is this moment’s most facile option – can actually give birth to something interesting if they’re accompanied by a tinge of artistic flair and a bit of humor that’s been put aside for rainy days. I’d suspected that isolating in two, in a bohemian and spartan apartment in Spain, would be capable of extending itself way beyond reality, somewhere between psychedelia and daytime nonsense. Now I know that this bubbly and lascivious trip, which lies somewhere in between Gaspar Noé and Almodóvar, has its moments of profane grace, which quickly dissolve into some filler moments, which then also dissolve, and so on. The images in the film shot on film stock (or something that looks like it, at least, it doesn’t even matter) are flickering with an intense verve on the screen, accompanied by a delirious voice over, which is a sign that nobody really understood anything out of this eternal Sunday (to paraphrase Rogelio), which was the quarantine itself. Did this clip produce any durable vignettes about the difficult moments of the 2020 springtime, or will everything evaporate just like a drugged-up haze that spills over into dark melancholy?  I’m almost inclined to agree with the first hypothesis because of the film’s “so bad it’s good” finale, worthy of the most notable Iberic excesses, in which a Latino lover becomes a bullfighter that dies after being pierced by the camera’s lens-horn.

Still from Now You Know

Avatar Victor Morozov
Film critic and journalist; writes regularly for Dilema Veche and Scena9. Doing a MA film theory programme in Paris. At Films in Frame Victor presents Kinostalgia - a monthly column about repertoire cinema.