Short films are like short stories; if they’re good, they’re as rich and complicated as long films and novels, but they compress things; there’s no space for excess or dithering. The setting must anchor the film right away; characters and events can’t develop slowly – they must be on time and ready at the giddy up.
Madre, from Spain, dives into swift, sure fear and anxiety. In a crisp, spare, white apartment, with a couple of long hallways, a divorced young mother is being annoyed by her pushy mother about her friends. But it’s really about her prospects for a new husband. As they stride around the apartment and cross back and forth around the space, they do an intricate -- almost funny -- dance, until the phone rings. It’s the young woman’s 6-year-old son who’s away with his father.
The boy cries he’s alone on a beach. He doesn’t know where his father is. And now the young mother interrogates him, the way her own mother questioned her, except that the stakes have changed. The tension rises, and with it a growing sense of frantic helplessness.
Madre’s a beautifully composed film – it feels like being trapped in a bad dream; the slowly moving camera becomes an inescapable container.
A film from Quebec called Fauve also shows children in danger.
The French title suggests something like wild or feral. Two boys about 12-years old play around an abandoned train. They taunt each other as boys do, and toy with their cruelty. They run, hide, throw rocks at each other, and wind up in an area of bare hills and a lake – it looks like an old gravel pit. And there’s quicksand, which in fact does not swallow people whole, but these filmmakers may not know that. The boys’ wildness has some bite to it – it’s a good picture of pure boy energy, but toward its end, Fauve loses direction and poignancy.
Marguerite, also from Quebec, falls into most of the clichés of movies about aging – loneliness, infirmity, nostalgia. These are real things, but old people also have intelligence, philosophy, aspirations, politics and more. But Marguerite also does things you don’t often see.
A nurse comes to Marguerite every day. She rubs her legs with lotion; she talks frankly but softly. When Rachel the nurse tells Marguerite that she has a girlfriend, Marguerite asks what it’s like for her to make love with a woman – a question I have never heard in a movie before. Rachel says it’s beautiful; she gives Marguerite a kiss and lies down beside her and holds her. The movie doesn’t really go anywhere in terms of story; its events look minor, but Marguerite the film doesn’t have to go anywhere. The tenderness is beautiful enough.
The one American film in the program, Skin, has no tenderness at all.
It’s a blunt revenge fantasy about a bunch of skinheads getting a deserved comeuppance. The skinhead family is all clichés; they’re brutal racists; the family of the African-American man they beat nearly to death, turns the tables. But it’s not a surprise.
In just 30 minutes, Detainment shows a story about the actual killing of a toddler by two 10-year old boys not far from the English city of Liverpool in 1993. The film centers on the interrogations of the two boys by patient mostly non-threatening detectives, as the horrified parents look on.
One boy is brash and full-faced, the other more childlike and timider, but they did it together. As the gruesome details emerge in a terrible slow progression, the movie stuns you with the question of why such little boys were capable of this ghastly crime. A title says that the two were tried in adult court, and were the youngest people convicted of murder in the 20th century.
This is the best group of Oscar nominated shorts I’ve seen.