“Tsunami” – Sofie Kampmark

How is life in China after a life-wrecking tsunami? This is the question posed by Tsunami, a fantastic animated short by the Danish director Sofie Kampmark about an elderly man named Haru who lives in denial after a tsunami. He discovers a sea spirit, who makes him face reality and deal with his loss, but that is not how I experienced it and interpreted the story. Although I do agree that this 7-minute short that got selected for this year’s La Séléction Cinéfondation at the Cannes Film Festival is more about the message it conveys than about the Visuals.

tsThis is how the story goes: life goes on after a big wave trashed Haru’s little Chinese cottage, and he tries to leave the dramatic event behind him by picking back up the banalities of life, although the traces are still visible from the crabs and fishes lingering around. But all of a sudden he finds a gigantic fish in his bathtub risking death by dehydration. Kampmark wonderfully uses colour in order to show whether the fish is still alive; he almost seems to lighten up every time he touches the water. This contrasts with the rest of the animation, where colours remain rather dark and less vivid. After a dream sequence, that in my opinion was not really relevant for any narrative progress, Haru personally takes care of bringing the poor fish back to the ocean.

The moral of the story lies in the fact that he chooses to save the life of the fish above getting his own life back on track, and then how this heroic deed affects his future. I question, though, whether Kampmark aimed for such kind of responses and interpretations from her audience. Also, I really wonder where she got the idea from to make an animation film about a tsunami in China, although she herself lives in Denmark. One might want to know whether there is any personal motivation involved.

Tsunami is a visually beautiful film, but the way its content makes you think more deeply about current global phenomena might distract you from its technical side.

 

“Chronic” – Michel Franco

Chronic is a drama written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco. The film was selected to compete for the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year, but instead won the award for Best Screenplay. It was the 3rd nomination for Franco, after his Spanish Después de Lucía in 2012 and Daniel y Ana in 2009. Chronic premiered at Cannes on May 22nd.

ch2In the film, Tim Roth plays David, who is the protagonist and the antagonist at the same time. David makes life hard for himself; we follow him as a hospice nurse for patients with – guess what – chronic diseases who are terminally ill. We first witness him taking care of the HIV patient Sarah (Rachel Pickup).

Pickup, who performs the role of Sarah in the most realistic way possible, deserves applause. Her body is so alarmingly thin that one may wonder how she manages to stay alive and kicking. It takes a lot of courage to go the full monty in front of a camera when your body is in such a bad condition.After Sarah’s funeral, David goes to a bar, where he tells a young couple that Sarah was his wife. This is a straight-up lie and that exact moment should already ring a bell. Something is not right with David.

We also follow him helping out the stroke victim John (Michael Cristofer). His children decide to sue David for sexual harassment, though, after David lets him watch porn. He loses his job and has to start over somewhere else. Robin Bartlett plays the role of David’s last patient, who suffers from a severe cancer and begs David to end her life by euthanasia.

chTherefore, another key note of Chronic might be the inner struggle that people experience when it comes to making the right decisions in life. David opts for the moral cause several times instead of following legal prescriptions.

The main plot of Chronic is nonetheless to find out about David’s identity. We witness him scrolling through Facebook pictures of the young Nadia Wilson (Sarah Sutherland – daughter of Kiefer), and we watch him following her several times with his car. No, he is not a sexual pervert; it is only in the 2nd half of the film we find she is his biological daughter (there is, however, no real mystery surrounding this so it’s not much of a secret).

Eventually they meet again at his ex-wife’s house, but their relationship has no opportunity to grow, since this is not Franco’s main focus. When watching the film you are automatically more concerned to find out about what happened in the past that made them part; David keeps having that intriguingly mysterious air.

The title does not only refer to the medical conditions of David’s patients, but also to his own disease, namely that of being a pathological liar. The audience may try to see things through, but gets confused by what he says an does every time over and over again. Along with the lack of a decent soundtrack, long and tiring scenes and the use of static camera – the film is mainly built on continuous shots – make you wonder where Chronic is leading to and make you doubt whether there actually is a narrative plot.

Chronic is really only meant for those who love the genre, because it is a shining example of slow drama. But when you believe in karma, you should know that what goes around comes around. No, before you decide to walk out, please make sure you watch the film to the end. It –almost literally – sweeps you off your feet.

 

 

“Krisha” – Trey Edward Shults

krisKrisha is written and directed by the 26-year old American Trey Edward Shults as an expansion of his award-winning short film of the same title. Fans of the Requiem for a Dream by Darren Aronofsky will undeniably be keen on Krisha and will, by all means, consider this one a benchmark for Shults’s breakthrough.

The film got selected for this year’s Semaine de la Critique is a setting example of a personal and deep motion picture, as it is entirely shot in the filmmakers’ mother’s house. Furthermore, cast and crew seem to have worked their way in properly, since they managed to do it together in only 9 day’s time. As Shults appropriately explained before the screening: “This is our work and this is my family!”.  The main part is performed by Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ own aunt in real life, who more than definitely owes a standing ovation for her highly dramatic and confronting -but not overacted- performance. She plays the role of a rehabilitating alcoholic, who abandoned her son and left him under the good care of his aunt and uncle. Once she arrives at an annual holiday, the entire event is seen through her viewpoint, and the busy atmosphere makes her feel claustrophobic. In addition to it, the entire film is limited to this setting and never goes beyond it. Because the setting was his own house, filled with childhood memories and as Shults performs himself, one might wonder in how far the story is autobiographical or fictional. There is definitely a thin line between what is real or not, and how reality and fiction is perceived. It seems most logical though that it holds certain aspects of the actor’s own life. The teamwork between the actors has a natural feel and the ironic performance of the manic uncle Doyle (Bill Wise) serves as an extra reason for the viewer to keep watching. Everybody is curious about what went wrong in the past and what will, or won’t, go wrong in the future. The dizzying tilting and panning of the camera makes the audience see the world through Krisha’s eyes. And as the narrative progresses, the rhythm goes up and almost gets you seasick. Also the soundtrack is worth the mentioning, because of its highly dramatic pace, which supports the film perfectly. Although the cast and crew from Krisha deserves a high five for this magnificent result, just like Krisha says in the film “high four and a half!” might be more appropriate, because of the fact that she misses half a finger in one hand. This missing half a point could serve as a proper motivation for Shults to make it to the European market, like he revealed to be is interest in a short conversation after the screening.

“Het Paradijs” – Laura Vandewynckel

Paradise, a short film that originally served as Laura Vandewynckel’s end work for the Belgian RITS School of Arts in Brussels in 2014, was afterwards selected for the 2015 edition of Séléction Fondation at Cannes. It definitely reached beyond Laura Vandewynckel’s wildest dreams, but sometimes dreams do come true. And although she didn’t win at Cannes, she has now even been selected for the Short Cuts at the Toronto International Film Festival that takes place September 10th-20th.

para1Paradise (Het Paradijs) is an animated short film by the young Vandewynckel. At the young age of 29 years old, she already has her very first nomination at Cannes after winning several awards in her home country Belgium for the same project. Some of them are the SABAM-award and a wildcard from the VAF (Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds/ Flemish Audiovisual Funding).

The title of the film refers to the exoticism people experience when going abroad. Vandewynckel’s own description of Paradise reads:

An animated short about people heading for a better place on either side of the ocean. Although at times their paths do cross, they never really seem to meet.”

She makes use of several metaphors to point attention to the strict divide between the modern western society and ‘the others’ across the ocean. The modern protagonist of the film is white, living in a white house. The use of colour stands for the opposition between the remarkably cold and sterile atmosphere of  the white society and the warm and colorful one on the other side of the ocean. The crossing of boundaries is marvelously suggested by the handmade oceans, trees and deserts. Most obviously, the natives have a different skin colour, which signifies the strong contrast between the hospital land the protagonist arrives in and his own one, living in denial. Whether both worlds get to meet eventually in a less superficial and distanced way – well, one should find out for themselves.

paraIt is a shame that people who have never watched Vandewynckel work before would not realize how much work has got into this project. If it wasn’t for Vandewynckel’s own introduction, the audience wouldn’t know she made every puppet herself, since nowadays everything is so easily created by using computers. These figures were indeed handcrafted. Also, Paradise is completely without any dialogue, but the folkloristic soundtrack, consisting of thumping rhythms, definitely fits the exotic atmosphere. The entire process took her 6 months and it must have been an intense period full of passion and devotion. The short 5’38″ is the worthy result of this tireless work on stop-motion animation.

Find out more about Laura Vandewynckel’s work at lauravandewynckel.com and watch the trailer.

 

 

“Victor XX” -Ian Garrido Lopez: Interview

Victor XX is the 2nd short made by Ian Garrido Lopez (26 years old) and is selected in the Hola  Catalunyaseries at this year’s Short Film Festival in Leuven. The film is a project for the Spanish Arts School ESCAC and set in  Almeria, where Garrido himself comes from.

victor1I’ ve already watched Victor XX at the Cannes Film Festival last May, where Garrido was selected in the Cinéfodation-section. There he won the 3rd prize. What struck me most though, was that jury member Cécile de Freance, a Belgian actress, asked for a standing ovation for the main actress Alba Martinez, who performs the role of Victor. A girl, who questions her gender and sexuality. In her search for her identity she gets confronted with how it feels to fall in love, while you are actually a boy in a girl’s body. Also, the film depicts the difficulties of keeping a secret in a small village in contrast to the anonimity of the big city, where you can be whoever you want to.

The entire cast consists of actors without any previous experience, which Garrido himself explains by stating “that it is there, where the magic of the story lives. The story is built with people, not characters.”

I met Ian Garrido Lopez at the Short Film Festival to talk about his film.

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Ian Garrido Lopez

Alba Martinez did an excellent job in performing the role of the transgender Victor/Mari. Where you already friends with her before you started the project?

No, I did some serious castings in Almeria, where I live, because I wanted to find the suitable person to express my feelings to the world, and to kind of play ‘me’. Alba was perfect for the part, because she looks a bit androgynous. She’s tall and quite muscular, that is because she used to be the junior champion in putting the shot when she was 16 years old, so she has very strong arms and shoulders. When we started the shooting, she already turned 18.

Nice! Was it hard for her to do the explicit scenes, like those where she films herself in front of the mirror?

No, she was immediatly willing to join us in the project, once she knew what Victor XX was all about. She wanted to help me in telling the world what I was going through, namely the search for my sexual identity.

So, like I already assumed, the story is autobiographical?

Yes, entirely.

Did you get any negative reactions on your film, because of the heavy subject?

Yes, of course there are always people who judge you, but nobody ever said something negative to my face. Mostly, I got positive reactions, also from other young people that struggle with their sexuality, like I did. They felt like I made it easier for them to talk about being a trandgender.

You won the 3rd prize at Cannes with your film. So what are your plans now?

I’m planning on doing another short film. But it takes time to do it properly, also the writing and collecting fundings. Although, since I won the prize in Cannes, getting funded has become easier. The money I won in Cannes, though, we split up with cast and crew. We also use it to travel around to promote Victor XX.

And also, I don’t have that much time right now to be creative, because I am doing all the travelling, which is an amazing opportunity! And I’m so grateful. Cannes was my first film festival ever, and look where I am standing now, I recently even went to Seoul in South-Korea!

Thank you, Ian, for the nice talk! I wish you nothing but the best in the near future. You’ve got my full 100% support and respect for reaching out to a thematic that is not always so easy.

 

 

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Check the website for more information.

“Las Elegidas” – David Pablos

leLas Elegidas (The Chosen Ones), by the Mexican director David Pablos, depicts the misfortunes of a young Mexican couple living in Tijuana, near the American-Mexican border which is known for its illegal sex trafficking. The film gets under your skin by Pablos’ realistic representation of Mexican hard-knock life. The film was selected in Cannes this year in the Un Certain Regard-section.

In this modern version of Shakespeares’ Romeo & Juliet, the more honourable Ulysses (Oscar Torres) falls in love of 14-year-old Sofia (Nancy Talamantes), but he is forced by his family’s tradition to turn her into a prostitute. Just like his father and brother, he is meant to trick all of his girlfriends into a web they’ll never escape from again. Despite the fact that Sofia was supposed to be his ‘first one’, Ulysses sincerely loves the girl and wants to buy her off from his own father, which is not allowed without him giving another girl in return. Consequently, the entire scenario seems to repeat itself, including another birthday party for the father to introduce the girl to the family. This rather ironic and repetitive representation gives the film its lighter tone and functions as a break from the otherwise dominant pessimistic and almost hopeless atmosphere, this time with another protagonist though, namely the poor Marta (Leidi Gutiérrez). As such, this film portrays the brutal violence these young girls get confronted with every day in real life, without any mercy or regret.

Ulises-personaje-detona-historia-amor_MILIMA20150417_0017_8One strong technical aspect of Las Elegidas is the use of asynchronous sound, which means that the soundtrack runs separately from the visuals. Actions that are not shown to the audience on purpose are nonetheless covered by post and pre-synchronisation or remarkable shifts in volume. So for example all the horrible experiences Sofia has to undergo in the whore house are nonetheless directly linked together by the sound fragments and dramatic soundtrack. In general, the relation between image and sound enables the audience to experience the tragic of being forced into prostitution by the one you love and trusted and sexual abuse through the eyes of the young Sofia.

Las Elegidas perfectly illustrates that being ‘chosen’ is not always a gift from God unfortunately.

“Youth”- Paolo Sorrentino

Youth is a film directed by an Italian in Switzerland with an American cast that was selected for the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival in France. How could it be more international? After his award-winning The Great Beauty (La grand Belleza) 2 years ago, Paolo Sorrentino actually managed to get selected again, but this time with an entirely different story in a completely different context. Youth is his 2nd English film after the terrific This Must Be The Place from 2011.

youth2Youth is about Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a retired composer of the “Simple Songs”, who retreats in an luxurious Swiss hotel with his lifelong friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). Boyle is a film director working on a new project with his young team of co-workers. He has an eternal adoration for the actress Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda).

The clash of generations is the leading motive in the film, with several personalities from different ages coming together and seeming to intertwine. Paul Dano plays Jimmy Tree, an actor in retreat to get more in touch with his next part, the ‘role of his life’, of which we get a delicious taste near the end of the film. Rachel Weisz is cast as Ballinger’s daughter and assistant, Lena, who has to keep her head up high after her husband leaves her for a young pop star because she is ‘good in bed’.

youthWeisz fits the role, but she does not stand out next to Michael Caine, whose performance is marvelously down-to-earth and quirky at the same time. Although his character is retired, the love for music still runs through his veins, so for the little candy wrappers he constantly uses to give his relatively boring existence some meaning. Also, Roly Serrano as the overweight but world-famous Diego Maradona, and Paloma Faith as herself, are worth mentioning. It is nonetheless the appearance of Miss Universe (Madalina Gheneathat makes the two old men’s heart beat faster and makes them feel young again.

The amazing soundtrack serves to contrast the elder and the younger generation. Classical orchestras and bouncing beats alternate, and that is exactly what Sorrentino aims for. The film does not merely want different generations to oppose one another, but it also wants to show the possibility for past and future to intertwine and how easily the divide between young and old is crossed.

The Swiss Alps and their sunny natural feel form the perfect setting for Ballinger’s revivification. He brilliantly composes the cows and their bells during his solitary walks. Scenes like this turn Youth into a feel-good feature film and makes one aware to enjoy every single banality in life.

youth1Youth is a well-directed and technically flawless film. One should definitely pay attention to the marvelous mise-en-scène. Nonetheless, when it comes to the narrative plot, Sorrentino pushes it too far and makes the end rather conform to Hollywood formula. The final part of the film has too many twists, causing it to miss its shot when it comes to conveying a proper lesson in life. Cut those last 20 minutes and the contrast between fortune and misfortune, or past and future would have been in perfect balance.

Check YouTube for the wonderful trailer.

“Patriot” – Eva Riley

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Eva Riley, a well-known and talented British director of shorts, perfectly captures the effects of family tradition and social prejudice in her 14-minute drama appropriately called Patriot. No wonder this short film was selected to compete for the Short Film Palme d’ Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

In the aftermath of a series of racial tensions in a rural British community, the young 11-year old Hannah (played by the new young talent Halle Kidd) bumps into a boy (Rafael Constantin) from a forbidden district. They play together, although different in every possible way; she’s native British, he’s a gipsy living in a trailer. But even though they initially get along, eventually things go wrong, and the film seems to end where it started. Hannah unfortunately lives a brainwashed existence, influenced by her chauvinistic far-right and foul-mouthed kin.

The opening and closing of this short film is framed by an English patriotic hymn called Jerusalem, celebrating the rich heritage of the native Brits. But while the film starts with Hannah singing in pride, it ends with the ambiguity between faithfulness to her own cultural mores and values and the shame of how she got moulded into a racist.

Patriot‘s strength lies in its symbolism. Hannah leaves her father (Michael Elkin) wearing their red cross-flag like a superhero would wear his cape. Standing tall and fierce, she seems to not be afraid of the unexpected, until the moment she bumps into a gipsy boy. When she returns home, there is no trace of the flag; she has put it away just like her short-sighted attitude.

patrThe use of space also adds to the themes of the film. The closer she gets to the boy, the closer the camera approaches them, but nonetheless, the montage techniques are kept at a bare minimum and one should definitely pay close attention to the mise-en-scène. Riley’s approach of distance and proximity between the characters symbolises their relationship and emotional attachment. There are no flash-backs and forwards. The entire narrative looks like a continuous shot, which almost literally sucks the audience into the story.

Riley leaves her audience abashed, making us aware of any negative stance we take toward other cultures and of the discriminating behaviour we ourselves are guilty of. At the same time, she also takes us back to those good old times of our childhood innocence by showing us in only 5 minutes how easy it was back then to get over social prejudice and accept each other as equals. Although Patriot ends like it started, the circle is not completely round, because one can tell from her face that Hannah struggles internally with who she truly is, and who she is expected to be.

Check Eva Riley’s website for more information and a trailer.