BIFF 2012 - Day 3

Shine Shorts

Bradford certainly has plenty of shorts on show to swell my film count, since most of the major films have one running before or after it, but I got up early this morning (eschewing the possibility of a welcome lie in) to make it in for this segment. As things turned out, not for the first time there were technical gremlins (which seems to happen all too often at Cubby Brocolli) but finally, we could both see and hear the stories.

Ab Morgen (Here, Now and Tomorrow) (Ger) - A man's thoughts of returning to his family after getting an illegal transplant operation over the border are put to one side, when he realises that the man he had to share a room with overnight is the donor of his shiny new organ. The consequences of his decision span far beyond the bounds of his family when he wakes. A touching opener. 8/10

Humiliated and Offended (Prt) - As a confused old man wanders through the city without the memory of the streets he used to know so well, his (adult) children frantically search all over for him, never quite being able to stop bickering over whose fault it was. A powerful but slightly overlong film about the dissolution of the close-knit family unit. 7.5/10

Kinderspiel (Child's Play) (Ger) - What appears to be a kidnapping and ransom by a young boy on a child right under the nose of it's mother is not quite as it seems. The gradual sense of the real picture crept up nicely and was well acted. 8/10

Ora et Labora (Pray and Work) (Austria) - An abstract and surreal film; an old man who never leaves his house shuffles and mumbles from window to chair, where his TV is his only contact with the outside world - which is completely at the mercy of his mood. In a reality where an old man's desires to do something about the imperfect idiots he sees every day can be made real, nobody is safe if they step out of line. Unsettling but original and fun. 7.5/10

The World Turns (UK) - Roger is a stereotypical white van man, prowling the roads of London with an arrogant confidence to his driving - until one day he causes an accident and drives from the scene in panic when a cyclist is lain waste on the road behind. Brazen cockiness fallen away and with a stark awareness of mortality, he reassesses his life and decisions up to that point, but will he do the right thing? A credible study on the psyche under stress, which could have done with a more satisfying ending. 7/10

Theory of Colour (Nor) - A film steeped in metaphor. Several parents and their adolescent offspring, each wearing a number wait outside a room for theirs to come up. Get the colour right inside, and you're accepted into adulthood. Get it wrong, and number seven will get angry with you. A nice take on the conservatism of the old versus the rebellion of the young, but it did feel a little too much like an old advert for non-conformist styling gel for my liking. 7/10

Musical Mayhem (US)

The first of the Chuck Jones cartoon collections; eight shorts chosen with a generally musical theme. Good news: it was dirt cheap and allowed people of a certain age to wallow in some childhood memories. Bad news: many members of the audience decided to introduce it to their children too, so a nice quiet theatre then.

There were two road runner cartoons (Beep Beep 5/10 - one of the first road runner shorts which lacked some of the touches of Scrambled Aches 6/10 but had all the base elements of later examples). In the middle was an example of the MGM Tom and Jerry cartoons from the sixties (Bad Day at Cat Rock, 4/10 where you can almost feel Jones' disdain as he sees the end of his particular era where cartoons managed to be both a popular medium and a source of subversive humour, and the slow gradual slide into low budget, tired slapstick). Thankfully things got better with Feed the Kitty 8/10 was the inspiration for the Boo/Sulley relationship in Monsters Inc, and retains it's feeling of lighthearted humour with a surprising degree of emotional punch.

The rest were Bugs Bunny cartoons, often using Opera - which seemed to be a fascination (or at least a constant puffed-up target to parody) - to frame the slapstick around. Baton Bunny (5/10, a late-era short where bugs conducts an orchestra, as stupidly as possible), Rabbit of Seville (6/10, where Elmer Fudd gets several close shaves to the music of the opera), Long Haired Hare (8/10 - the one with the angry opera singer and Bugs as Leopold, giving him the beating of his life) and a rather worn copy of What's Opera, Doc? (8/10), arguably the pinnacle of the Jones-era cartoons showed a gradual refinement and composure of the animation, tempered slapstick and character development together as one.

Overall, seeing several in quick succession does show up some reuse of concepts, particularly how many ways a bad guy can be made to look stupid, but the best ones made the experience well worthwhile. Pretty much all of these films and others on show through the fest can be seen on various tube-related sites if you go looking. 7.5/10

Three Stories (US) - Made by the same director and shown before The Last Buffalo Hunt, and using some of the base footage that would eventually make it's way into that film, Three Stories attempts, Qatsi-like, to provide a picture of America - or certain less travelled parts of it, concentrating on what used to be the old western frontier. Mass graves, particularly of Custers' men and the Indians they slayed sit awkwardly in the shadow of the cheesy tourist kitsch that has grown up around it. An eager crowd stands waiting on a Hollywood street trying to get sight of some Oscar winners, as grown men stand naked but for a thick layer of glitter selling statues and clapper boards. It seems that the things that made the most impact in America, shaping it's history for better or worse, cannot shake the relentless moneymaking schemes that come with it. Though the film succeeded in painting a picture of parts of America, those parts were disjointed and it was difficult to work out where the three stores were delimited. 5/10

The Last Buffalo Hunt (US) (site)

The North American Bison (not a buffalo, despite the hunt being called as much) was virtually hunted to extinction before the 20th Century even started, apparently as part of the plan by the settlers to badger the indigenous tribes out of their way as the Frontier headed west. Today, only a few small herds of naturally roaming bison remain, and one of them is at the Henry Mountains in Utah. For a short while each year, hunters are permitted to git thair guns out and spend a few weeks heroically hiding behind rocks taking shots from a safe distance, and then standing over the freshly turned and posed corpse for a picture to frame.

The hunt can bring in the cash; the meat goes into the local butchery, the head and hide will often make it to the taxidermists who manage a constant trade of producing heads for above your fire with animatronics inside so it will flap it's ears at you and look around, perpetually or at least until the batteries die. There is also a good income coming from the 'clientèle' - various well-off sorts who pay good money to be furnished with a rifle and take some pot shots.

As you can probably tell, I'm pretty riled by what I saw. I understand about the way of life thing, and the need to control numbers while also providing the family with food and/or money. But I would not have had the steely-faced and cheery patience of Lee Ann Schmidt, the director who followed a couple of hunts armed only with a handicam and an overriding desire to let the people do the talking with minimal prompting. But even she must have been clenching her fist and/or teeth when one of the hunters' wives talked blithely about going on safari to shoot a todo list of animals (without, it was implied, eating or otherwise utilizing the kill), and then taking several shots to kill a bison as she laughed about how bad a shot she was and how the pesky beast would just not die.

But the film as an informative documentary has much to tell, even though it's titular theme is somehow almost lost by the observations of hunts, kills, butchery and the family life that surrounds it. 7.5/10

Revelations (UK) - Chris has an unfortunate name and address, leading his stalker to make a big assumption about his higher purpose in life. A dryly amusing short that, like a giggling teen, tries to take itself seriously for five minutes, just to demolish it all for a laugh thereafter. 8/10

Sawdust City (US) (site)

In the snow-covered town of Eau Claire, two brothers meet during Thanksgiving. The elder, Bob, is well into family life, with a pregnant wife seeing to the last minute party arrangements. Bob's big surprise for the occasion is Pete, back after completing navy training and seeming a little distant. Of course, Bob's ulterior motive is to down a few pints with his brother like in the old times, something he hasn't been able to do since his leash was tightened. Figuring he can do both and then be back before evening, the task becomes triple when he realises his father has gone missing, watering himself at one of the many drinking holes in town. A combined pub crawl, brotherly meetup and parental search all in one? Count him in.

As they get further away from the party, and increasingly drunk, the wasted but opportunistic Gene takes advantage of a full wallet and a passing familiarity with their father to tag along and get any free food and drink he can before he outstays his welcome. Gene is boorish and clumsy, and both brothers start to learn details about their father neither new as they follow the trail of clues through the bars, via Gene's increasingly loose mouth.

Sharing actor Lee Lynch who played Gene with The Last Buffalo Hunt (where he co-directed), Sawdust City is an unassumingly deep study of the close brotherly relationship that exists between siblings, and how, given the right alcoholic catalysts, any secrets between them can soon rise emotionally to the surface. Bob and Pete are a convincing pair of brothers, growing up and apart from each other but sharing that special bond. Gene is a perfect bum waster whose talents and presence are criminally underused towards the end (although it could be argued his move out of the spotlight gives the opportunity for the brothers' defining moments to become centre stage). The constantly fruitless search for their father means that all the attention can be given to a full rounding out of both the characters and the family unit of which they are part, though we never see directly, and this is Sawdust City's greatest asset. 8/10

Sudd (Swe) - I saw this one last year and it's pretty impressive. A mixture of live action and animation tells of a world turning slowly to paper, and the desperate actions of one woman determined to escape it no matter the cost. 7.5/10

Goodbye First Love (Fra/Ger) (wiki)

Camille and Sullivan are young teenagers in love. Being French, they declare it daily in a flamboyance of words. But Camille loves him more than she can communicate, and her subsequent need to control is beginning to suffocate Sullivan, and when his friends suggest another trip around South America to help him find himself, he accepts, and Camille, whether she could be persuaded or not, is not invited.

Sullivan is young and inexperienced in deep love, and is also confused, and for long enough he seems to have been suffering the problems to be with a girl he feels a deep need to be with, at some point of his life. That said, the sexytimes can't plaster over the cracks for ever. At least he does the rightish thing and heavily hints during a final summerhouse trip that maybe they should use the time wisely to explore other avenues, and as the letters back to Camille slowly dry up, his last correspondence spells it out.

Director Mia Hansen-Løve has created a deeply personal account, spread over a decades worth of a young woman's life, of what it is like to have to reconcile the many forces acting upon a love affair; commitment, honesty, trust and above all the recognition of when it is truly love and not merely a coupling forged in the name of companionship, status or comfort. Camille, played by Lola Créton (who was also in Bluebeard back in 2010) - who shoulders much weight with a powerful portrayal of girlhood and womanhood whilst still only 17 at the time of filming. Excellent acting and an often beautiful score result in a film that will hit home any person who has spent years of their life in and out of love. 8/10

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