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MWFF: Shorts

Cinephile on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown

Today I was rather wasted after a few very short nights of sleep. Unfortunately I had to forfeit and take the afternoon off. I know that was sissyness on my part as a good caffeine injection would probably have done the trick but I need to keep some strength for the upcoming film festivals coming in the next few weeks. I’ll publish the hectic schedule of the upcoming festivals in my concluding piece about the MFWW in a few days; it’s rather frightening. I only saw two films today, two very good films. Camping Sauvage and The Milkwoman.

I’ll write about those films tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll take the opportunity of having watched less films today to talk about some of the short films I’ve seen. So far I have neglected short films from my coverage. Not because I’m not interested or because I don’t think they’re worth writing about; it’s just that I usually don’t have the time to write about them! At the festival, I saw about a dozen short films that where shown before feature films. Out of those, 2 caught my attention for their extraordinary qualities. I’ll talk about those 2 short films (Terra Incognita, Dry Whiskey) as well as about the opening short film of the festival (Mesdames et Messieurs).

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Terra Incognita (Short film, Peter Volkart)

Every once in a while I see a short film that amazes me and makes me wonder why short films aren’t more available outside film festivals. Terra Incognita is one of those awesome films. What a nice treat! I don’t want to say too much about the film because I don’t want to alter your reception of it—hoping you can catch a screening somewhere. However, what I’ll say is that the atmosphere is very dreamy and that the film shares many aspects to the popular computer game Myst. Everything about this film is perfect. The set designs (in the case of the very few real sets) and the computer-generated decors are truly astonishing and they successfully immerse the spectators in a strange and unreal yet strangely familiar world where the laws of physics don’t abide, thanks to the twisted mind of a scientist.

The directing is brilliant – not only does it let the viewers discover a strange world on the screen, but it allows the viewers to foresee a very nice career (perhaps in feature films) from this very talented director. When I write capsule reviews I usually try to be objective but for very few films I can’t. This is one of them. You literally need to contact your local film festival directors so that they include this film in their programs!

The film is an homage to French philosopher Raymond Roussel. There are no explicit references but rather many subtle and obscure links to his work. The film relates the story of Igor Leschenko who was in the headlines for a brief period of time in the 1920s. He’s a young scientist who challenges the laws of gravity through his weird experiments. Other physicists don’t believe in his theories and they think he’s an impostor. After a series of debates at a pataphysicists convention, he organizes an expedition above the 75th parallel where it is said that there an island on which there is no gravity. Will Leschenko find the Nanopol island in his long and hazardous journey, or are his theories fake and the island simply a legend?

I had heard of Raymond Roussel but I’m not particularly familiar with his work and I’m not all that familiar either with pataphysics theories — who the heck in the world is? — yet this film turned out to be very fascinating and genuinely entertaining. A masterpiece!

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Dry Whiskey (Short Film, Robert Budreau)

Dry Whiskey is yet another very nice accomplishment. The story takes place in a rural community. A father who has problems with alcoholism wakes up one morning to find his truck is accidented. Not only that, the truck has blood on it. The night before he was very drunk and he doesn’t remember a single thing that happened after he was thrown out of the bar he was drinking in. Thinking it could be a hit & run, the father and his son decide to hide the incident to the police. However, they very soon learns that the son of the father’s best friend died the same night in a hit & run. The film follows them as they struggle to return to normal lives after the terrible accident while trying hide the truth from the authorities.

I’m sure that this quick summary of the film doesn’t make the film sound very entertaining nor fun. Well, strangely enough(!), it’s not. This is drama at its best. As much as Terra Incognita was an oneiric film, Dry Whiskey is a down to earth realist and harsh film about alcoholism. The film is very long for a short film, 20 minutes, but I felt it could have gone on for another hour or so. The story is intense and the autumnal cinematography is breathtaking—an interesting contrast with the rough reality the film depicts.

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Mesdames et Messieurs (Ladies and Gentlemen, Short film, Opening Film, David Boisclair)

It’s a very interesting film that reminded me of a TV show I used to watch when I was about 6-8y/o. In Le Village de Nathalie (1985 to 1988), young wannabe signers went on TV to lip-sync their favorite songs. Awww, the memories. Mesdames et Messieurs takes more or less the same approach but in a very dreamy atmosphere set in a sleek 1930s bar.

In the film, as the evening is getting underway, couples meet to the sound of a cappella voices singing of love. The music—which include some of the most famous francophone singers such as Plamondon, Kaas, Piaf, Lenorman, Ferland and others—is sung by adults. However, the couples are played by children: 26 seven-year-olds pupils. As the songs follow one another, the film becomes a dance-filled evening of emotion: from love to laughter, tears, anger, and back to love again.

The cinematography is purely outstanding. The 26 students are actually part of the same class and had no movie experience prior to doing the film. In some cases it shows but the performances in the film are magic and add a lot to the romantic settings of the film. The film was shot as a school project. At the same time, this experience allowed the students to discover aspects of filmmaking while applying it to their regular education. For instance, the songs from the film were used to teach languages to students. Don’t let the fact that this film is a so-called ‘school project’ fool you; it’s a very nice and enjoyable film in addition to being wonderfully crafted.

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