Eight ideas for a short film competition

Here are some notes, in random order, on the Short Film Competition (58 films, 32 countries taking part), that are not to be used as a guide to seeing the films, but more as an invitation for a transversal reading of the selection, beyond the individual programmes. Because this is how it is patiently put together by the ten selectors.

Social. It’s official, the web has irreversibly contaminated the short film. In the selection, a compendium of the most effective (and radical) proposals. The “already a classic” Noah, completely inside the home page of a laptop, and its reverse equivalent, All That Is Solid, which photographs the mechanisms with which we find out facts. Then there is the narrative Send which transforms the social-global audience into a noisy puppet theatre and Boring Angel, which demolishes the basic elements of the cinema, leaving only emojis to act as our guide.

Kids. A recurring theme of debut filmmakers, they are more lost and hard to catch than the average kid. What are the little rascals in Molii confabulating in their language? What is going on in the head (and what is happening to the head) of the girl in The Queen? And what is happening in Clara’s stomach in Dizziness? Why does the main character in Cambodia 2099 want to travel into the future? And why does the boy in Marc Jacobs want a pair of Marc Jacobs glasses?

Animals. Humans are losing contact with reality, and the cinema attempts to re-establish a virtuous bond with the animal world, possibly a non-hedonistic one (cute kitties on the web, trendy coats for dogs etc. …). The surreal Symphony no. 42 is precisely about how we have been able to deviate to our advantage the relationship with animals, a subject that is also at the root of the magical cinema – in the sense of magician – of Luis Nieto, an old acquaintance of the MFF, who has a rock band of dust mites perform. Apart from the craziness of the animation, animal silence is used to say a lot about human beings, as in Fernando, where a parrot compares Portugal in crisis with the natives’ Brazil overtaken by capitalism, and reaching the apotheosis of Pedro Misfortune, an enigmatic pseudo-Western about a drunk donkey-zebra that rebels against the abuse of its master, to flee towards freedom.

Time. Our time, which the short films – because usually they are freer from the production demands of feature films – try to frame in the moment in which it becomes reality. The time of the new Gypsies generation in Our tempo, and their invented language to say things with are otherwise inexplicable. The time Syrian refugees spend waiting in an inhospitable Greece, brutally immortalized by Xenos. The time that Peter Bergmann took to disappear completely and not leave any traces, almost taking the song by Radiohead literally. And then the time, about 20 minutes, of a search that veers on the absurd by Israeli soldiers in a Palestinian home in Hebron, filmed by the family’s own video cameras. A field invasion shot just before the explosion of violence in Gaza, an umpteenth account of a time that has lasted too long.

Italy. The very lively and eclectic selection of the Italians – at last!! – engages in enthusiastically challenging the standard way of making short films in Italy. First of all, The Shack turns inside out the deviations from a promotional postcard and shows in Super VHS a Puglia that is harsh and inhospitable, close to the desolation of Go Easy Pino, the story of a recluse portrayed with anti-television dignity. From the hinterland of the Naples regions comes Tacco 12, an exhilarating mockery, half Chi l’ha visto? and Real Time on group dancing as the pathology of the century. Two gems from the CSC are also highly inventive, the mock scientific The Age of Rush and Man in the Coffee, the surreal elegy of a disturbing comedy. Lastly, the unclassifiable museum tour of Beauty, in which centuries of art history literally come to life, giving rise to a totally new estrangement.

Men. It is not a tender picture for men that emerges from the selection. Narcissistic to the point of self-caricature, like the “great actor” in A Political Story, or incapable of explaining to himself why he has been dropped (the animated Queenie), Adam can be such a bastard that he can even seem nice: this happens in Remember Me, which merges a compulsion for the web with the traditional instinct for an affair, or in Gregory Go Boom, in which disability does not prevent the main character – the great Michael Cera – from being a really nasty piece of work. Always fragile when confronted with the subject of fatherhood (In August), the man of 2014 has to reckon with new and astonishing challenges (the donation of sperm to a couple of women in The Strand). Luckily, when weakness becomes awareness, this man is always capable of courageous, almost epic, gestures, as in the heroic rendering on the stage of a Canadian short, with the emblematic title: I Am not a Great Actor.

Women. As though obliged by a dark force to push herself beyond what her body and her heart can do, woman in this selection is restless and in transition. She is, physically, in the firm Botoxed body of Supervenus, or in the asexual and deathly pale one of the main character in Flora and Fauna. Willing to compromise with her rules (the exchange of couples in Orgy), at times she is caught up in her old dream of a Prince Charming, who in Travellers into the Night becomes a lorry driver. Between weakness and uncertainties, she is nevertheless capable of remaining a Woman-Woman, able to seduce with her fascinating vulnerability, and to leave stranded the “poor” male, who is still looking for an answer to a pointless question: Where Were You When Michael Jackson Died?

Cinema. Freed from every constraint, the short film at times reflects on its cinematographic existence. Often it is the shortest films that do this: One Man, Eight Cameras is the nostalgic attempt by the artist to relive the era of the zoetrope from the inside; The Shadow of Your Smile evokes the glorious era of porn films on VHS cassettes and the hated magnetic interference on the tape; whilst Berlin’s Short Film Scene is a documentary fragment that shows the perennial invisibility of the short film, in a short circuit that leaves the viewer (but also festival organizers) entertained but equally bitter. And if Mirai Mizue in Wonder salvages the original meaning of animation by composing a film instinctively, accumulating 24 images a day for 365 days, Garagedoor December goes even further, transforming the anonymous space of a garage in the cut of a first, unusual frame, as though it were the beginning of every film (and it will indeed be screened in several parts opening four programmes).

Alessandro Beretta and Vincenzo Rossini
© Milano Film Festival -