Canada’s Top Ten 2012: Shorts

If you love short film, I’ll remind you that my next Shorts That Are Not Pants screen­ing will be held on Thursday January 17th at the Carlton Cinemas. We’ll be show­ing Chloé Robichaud’s very funny Chef de meute from this selec­tion. Advance tick­ets are on sale already.

On Sunday night, TIFF Bell Lightbox screened all of this year’s shorts named to Canada’s Top Ten. Here are my thoughts on the films (includ­ing two I’d seen before, Lingo and Chef de meute).

Lingo

Lingo (Director: Bahar Noorizadeh, 13 minutes)

Lingo uses a static cam­era and long shots to sort-of tell the story of a young Afghan boy who inad­vert­ently starts a fire that burns down a neighbour’s house. A mis­un­der­stand­ing lands his non-English-speak­ing mother an uncom­fort­able inter­view with a police inter­preter. I want to applaud the dar­ing of the film­maker, because some of the tech­niques used are pretty ali­en­at­ing to the audi­ence, but the end res­ult com­mu­nic­ates a real sense of con­fu­sion and dis­con­nec­tion, even when someone is sup­posedly speak­ing your lan­guage.

Kaspar

Kaspar (Director: Diane Obomsawin, 8 minutes)

Quebec car­toon­ist Diane Obomsawin anim­ates her 2009 book on the life of Kaspar Hauser, a mys­ter­i­ous young man found liv­ing in a German cave in 1828. The sub­ject of sev­eral films, includ­ing one by Werner Herzog, Hauser’s mys­ter­i­ous ori­gins were never dis­covered, nor were the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing his mys­ter­i­ous death. Kaspar presents the story in simple clean lines and its char­ac­ter as a trust­ing inno­cent. Telling the story in the first per­son gives the tra­gic tale addi­tional poignancy.

Reflexions

Reflexions (Director: Martin Thibaudeau, 6 minutes)

An attempt to tell a story visu­ally through reflec­ted images is a clever gim­mick, but Thibaudeau’s rather simplistic and heavy-handed por­trayal of the funeral of a man who was not what he seemed was the least sat­is­fy­ing of the ten films for me. An inter­est­ing concept that needed more sub­tlety.

Paparmane (Wintergreen)

Paparmane (Wintergreen) (Director: Joëlle Desjardins Paquette, 19 minutes)

Remarkably sim­ilar in tone to Chloé Robichaud’s Chef de meute, but fea­tur­ing a depressed cat instead of an excit­able pug, this film was a delight. A lonely park­ing attend­ant is mourn­ing his mother’s death, along with her mel­an­choly pet. Things begin to change when he meets an exuber­ant tele­gram singer. Filmed near an amuse­ment park closed for the winter, Paparmane uses its set­ting to great effect. I’m also a big fan of the way the film is able to find humour within its poten­tially gloomy situ­ations.

Malody

Malody (Director: Phillip Barker, 13 minutes)

Strange things begin to occur inside a diner where a sick girl con­fronts her­self as a little girl. Although visu­ally impress­ive and full of styl­istic flour­ishes, Malody’s art film opa­city left me unable to con­nect with its char­ac­ters.

Crackin' Down Hard

Crackin’ Down Hard (Director: Mike Clattenburg, 10 minutes)

Clattenburg explained to the audi­ence that the idea for the film came to him and his co-writer­/star Nicholas Wright when they were vis­it­ing Joshua Tree National Park in California. Conceived, writ­ten and filmed a scant two weeks later, Crackin’ Down Hard feels like a com­edy sketch you’d expect to see on a show like Kids in the Hall. Terry is a guy who comes to the desert to get away from the hec­tic life he has in the city. While hik­ing one day, he’s con­fron­ted by a strange man who tempts him with hook­ers. It’s an absurd situ­ation, and all the more hil­ari­ous as Terry gradu­ally suc­cumbs to the pimp’s high-pres­sure sales tac­tics. The film’s humble ori­gins show in the rather muddy image qual­ity, but the dia­logue and comic pay­off more than make up for it.

Old Growth

Old Growth (Director: Tess Girard, 5 minutes)

A man’s rural routine com­prises this simple piece shot without dia­logue. With his wheel­bar­row, an old man walks along a windswept road to a forest where he chops fire­wood. Well-shot and with an espe­cially good use of sound design, Old Growth is more of an exper­i­mental piece, since there is almost no focus on the man’s face.

Ne crâne pas sois modeste (Keep a Modest Head)

Ne crâne pas sois mod­este (Keep a Modest Head) (Director: deco dawson, 19 minutes)

Canadian-born Jean Benoit was the last mem­ber of the Surrealist group of artists. Using archival audio and film foot­age, dawson con­structs a series of vign­ettes from the artist’s life using his own sur­real­istic style. Some of these tech­niques work really well (Benoit as a child jump­ing between houses and peer­ing in rooftop win­dows) and some not as well (an almost end­less series of zoom-ins on a paint­ing), with the end res­ult being a film worthy of admir­a­tion more than love. dawson spoke pas­sion­ately about Benoit at the screen­ing, and I felt dis­ap­poin­ted that some of the quirk seemed to dis­tract from the filmmaker’s clear love of his sub­ject.

Bydlo

Bydlo (Director: Patrick Bouchard, 9 minutes)

Based on a musical piece by Mussorgsky, Bydlo is an innov­at­ive anim­ated film that uses images of anim­als and face­less people to explore the cycles of life, death and labour. The word “bydlo” comes from the Polish word for cattle and is often applied to “the masses” of uneducated, lower-class people. The dra­matic use of the musical source mater­ial along with the quite amaz­ing anim­a­tion tech­nique makes this a sober­ing but fas­cin­at­ing big pic­ture por­trayal of the seem­ing futil­ity of life.

Chef de meute (Herd Leader)

Chef de meute (Herd Leader) (Director: Chloé Robichaud, 13 minutes)

In this com­edy, the humour is dark indeed. When Clara’s spin­ster aunt dies sud­denly, her fam­ily sug­gest she take in the older woman’s pug, since, as a single woman her­self, she has time to take care of it. When even the dog seems to boss her around, she turns to a dog trainer for help. In a hil­ari­ous sen­dup of The Dog Whisperer, he encour­ages her to be more assert­ive. It’s a les­son she takes to her pushy fam­ily mem­bers. Ève Duranceau plays the put-upon Clara to neur­otic per­fec­tion, and the pug turns in a pretty impress­ive per­form­ance, too.

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