The last time Appellate Judge James A. Stewart tried to attend a film festival in his home, he couldn't get tickets.
"We're living in a period where cinema is a product; movies are becoming more and more commercialized. Short films are one of the last real places for artistic freedom—they're important to celebrate just for that."—Juan Solanas, in the accompanying booklet
Short subjects used to be a big part of the moviegoing experience. You got cartoons, comedy, newsreels, and maybe a chapter of Flash Gordon along with the main feature. While you might see a cartoon here and there (and will see a lot of ads and trailers), short subjects get short shrift nowadays.
The folks at Cinema 16 want to do something about that. They've released collections of British shorts and American shorts. Now they're releasing Cinema 16: European Short Films, a collection that mixes early films by established directors and recent films by newcomers.
You won't find anything like The Three Stooges or Robert Benchley here; these directors seem to prefer surrealism and unusual imagery.
Most of the short films (16 of them, of course) in Cinema 16: European Short Films include commentary by the directors:
Director Juan Solanas weaves a blend of fairy tale, surrealism, and pantomime comedy that's full of striking visuals. And it's fun. 95
"Wasp"—England, 2003, 23 minutes: A single mom risks having her kids taken away by social services for a night out with a man. While mom's inside the pub, the kids are sitting outside, hungry enough to eat discarded food they find in the street. No commentary is included.
The camera seems like a fly (or a wasp) on the wall for Director Andrea Arnold's slice of life. It plays out all too realistically, even with a possibly symbolic ending. 75
"Doodlebug"—England, 1997, 3 minutes: A memento of the student film days of Director Christopher Nolan (Memento) shows a man chasing a bug in a run-down flat. No, wait, that's…
At less than three minutes, it's quick. It does do the trick, though. 84
"World of Glory"—Sweden, 1991, 16 minutes: After opening with naked people being herded into a truck to be gassed, director Roy Andersson then enters the dull world of a Swedish real estate broker, telling the man's story in short, static blackouts. An attempt "to show the spirit of the times," this early 1990s short takes on everything from the high cost of housing to corporate logos on athletes.
The first scene is guaranteed to make you nervous, but what follows isn't as effective at making Andersson's points. 80
"Je T'Aime John Wayne"—England, 2000, 10 minutes: A young man's kissing "the girl of my dreams" on a London street—until he wakes up to find himself alone in his flat, "a dreamer who never sleeps, a sleeper who never dreams."
This black-and-white short by Toby MacDonald takes viewers on a stylish tour of pop culture imagery, with a look and sound that evoke the 1960s and the French New Wave. 85
"Gasman"—England, 1997, 14 minutes: A divorced and remarried dad takes his kids from both marriages to a company Christmas party. They don't get along.
This short's too artsy, with no shots that let you see anyone's heads in the first two minutes or so. I needed the commentary by Director Lynne Ramsay to get the point; not a good sign. 60
"Jabberwocky"—Czechoslovakia, 1971, 13 minutes: Jan Svankmajer's animation, which begins with a reading of the Lewis Carroll poem, is "almost a textbook illustration of Freud," according to commentator Peter Haynes. Meant to "interact with a viewer's subconscious," it shows a surreal playroom where the toys come alive.
Not sure I'd show kids the part with the dolls' heads "cooking" on a toy stove, but it's done very well. 82
"Fierrot Le Pou"—French, 1990, 8 minutes: In Mathieu Kassovitz's short, a boy shooting hoops—badly—tries to impress a girl. In his mind, he's making all the shots, though.
This black-and-white short isn't fancy but it gets the job done. No commentary. 85
The Photoshop animation by Run Wrake looks slick. The parable works, if you don't mind lots of insects and yucky animal insides. 84
"Copy Shop"—Austria, 2001, 12 minutes: A man copies his hand in a copy shop. Soon, his life starts repeating and he keeps running into copies of himself.
Animated like a flip book with digital paper, Virgil Widrich's "Copy Shop" has a grainy look that looks like photocopies. Interesting perspective. 90
"Boy and Bicycle"—England, 1958, 27 minutes: Ridley Scott's first film features his brother Tony as a 16-year-old who rides through the seaside resort and industrial town of Hartlepool while delivering a stream-of-consciousness narration.
Scott's work was visually striking from the start. I suspect he was aiming for something revolutionary, but what's here, a nice time capsule of 1950s England, isn't bad at all. 86
"Nocturne"—Denmark, 1980, 8 minutes: Lars Von Trier's student film follows a woman with sensitive eyes. "I could never live with the light on," she says.
The imagery is surreal. It's also very hard to take in because of the poor picture and sound quality. Interesting idea, though. 70
"Before Dawn"—Hungary, 2005, 13 minutes: Balint Kanyeres takes viewers along on an early morning journey with a truck smuggling refugees.
It's a slice of life with drama. 88
"Election Night"—Denmark, 1998, 11 minutes: On the way to his polling place, Peter decides to change cabs because of the cabbie's opinions about Arabs.
Anders Thomas Jensen delivers his vignette on tolerance with flair. 90
"Six Shooter"—Ireland, 2004, 27 minutes: Strangers on a train all have the same thing on their mind, since all of them have lost a loved one recently. In Martin McDonagh's hands, this leads to drama—and danger.
An unlikely story, but told well. As the title hints, it ends bloodily. 82
"The Opening Day of Close-Up"—Italy, 1996, 7 minutes: It's a big day for a theater that shows little films instead of Hollywood blockbusters, and theater owner and director Nanni Moretti guides you through it.
Nice glimpse of Moretti's life, even for someone who likes an occasional blockbuster. 85
Cinema 16: European Short Films has only one must-see film: "The Man Without A Head." Conversely, only three—"Wasp," "Gasman," and "Nocturne"—left me completely cold, and I'd attribute at least part of the poor impression for "Nocturne" on the deterioration of the film, rather than its contents. The rest of the set is a mixed bag, with some films that could catch your fancy if you keep your mind open.
The menu is annoying to navigate, since I have to turn the commentary on and off with nearly every short. That requires moving the cursor around a lot. It doesn't help that the menu for each disc shows all 16 films despite the fact that only eight films are on each disc; that's confusing.
If you're a film student or buff, you'll likely appreciate the inclusion of early works from Christopher Nolan, Lars Von Trier, and Ridley Scott.
Except for a tricky menu, any problems with Cinema 16: European Short Films are those inherent in any collection of modern shorts. If you're interested in short films, it's a good place to start.
Cinema 16: European Short Films is for the most serious of viewers, but it meets its goal of introducing viewers to the range of European short film. Not guilty.
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