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Case Number 15110: Small Claims Court

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Cinema 16: World Short Films

Cinema16 // 2008 // 278 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // November 28th, 2008

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart went around the world in a week. He's exhausted.

The Charge

"I apologize, I apologize, and I apologize for the piece of crap you're about to see."—Guillermo del Toro, commenting on his short film, "Doña Lupe"

The Case

"Doña Lupe" might not be a great film, or even a good one, but at least Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) delivered an engaging commentary. His student film is one of 16 shorts featured on Cinema 16: World Short Films. Other directors featured include Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville), Park Chan Wook (Old Boy), Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg), Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), and Jane Campion (The Piano), to name but a few.

Naturally, the two-disc set contains 16 short films, most with commentaries:

1) "Wasp" (Great Britain, 2003, 24 minutes)
Been there, done that, since this one appeared in a previous Cinema 16 volume. A single woman leaves her four kids outside a pub while she goes inside for a date. A wasp crawls into baby's mouth. Andrea Arnold directs. No commentary.

2) "Judgement (Simpan)" (South Korea, 1999, 25 minutes)
Two families have stepped forward to claim the body of a woman killed in a catastrophe. This black-and-white film in Korean switches to color for a literal shocker ending and weaves some graphic disaster footage into its narrative. There's a choice between sloppy original subtitles and new ones with better translation; I chose the sloppy ones and put up with the mistakes. Tense moments are relieved with dark humor, as when we find that a morgue freezer is filled with beer as well as bodies. Director Park Chan Wook talks about the apocalyptic fervor in 1999 in his commentary.

3) "Sikumi (On the Ice)" (United States, 2008, 15 minutes)
Taqi dies after a fight on the ice. Apuna, who witnessed the fight, wants to take the body back, but the killer's a friend who faces jail if he does. The Sundance Jury Prize winner is effective. Directed by Andrew Okpeaha Maclean in Inupiaq. The effects of lighting and cold on a shoot in Barrow, Alaska, are noted in the commentary.

4) "Doña Lupe" (Mexico, 1985, 33 minutes)
A woman facing ruin rents a room to two policemen despite her suspicions about their intent. Her doubts soon prove correct, and a showdown leads to bloodshed in Guillermo del Toro's short in Spanish. Del Toro's commentary anecdotes include a disaster with poor lighting.

5) "La Vieille Dame et les Pigeons" (Canada-France, 1998, 22 minutes)
A cranky gendarme sees an old woman feeding pigeons in the park and schemes to get his own grand repast. Except for tourist comments, a la Playtime, at the start and end, Sylvain Chomet's animation is a dialogue-free surreal delight. He discusses his animation techniques and mentions other works, including The Triplets of Belleville, in his commentary.

6) "Attack on the Bakery" (Japan, 1982, 16 minutes)
A weighty narration about "emptiness" accompanies the story of two hungry men who plot to rob a bakery. When the narration analyzes the lone customer's choice of a melon cake as the two men wait for the store to empty, the jest becomes obvious. Based on Haruki Murakami's short story, "The Second Bakery Attack." Director Naoto Yamakawa tells how he had a cameraman spun to get a bold opening shot in his commentary for the short in Japanese.

7) "Two Cars, One Night" (New Zealand, 2003, 11 minutes)
Kids sit in cars waiting for their parents to leave the pub in this black-and-white short. The commentary reveals the surprising number of special effects director Taika Waititi used.

8) "Sonata for Hitler" (Russia, 1989, 10 minutes)
Archive film of Adolf Hitler is interspersed with other stock footage that gets increasingly grim, eventually showing skulls, tanks, and soldiers. The initially peaceful music grows somber to match. No commentary in this black-and-white short by Alexander Sokurov.

9) "My Dad is 100 Years Old" (Canada, 2005, 16 minutes)
"My father was a genius—I think," Isabella Rosselini says in the surreal centennial tribute she wrote to her father, Roberto Rosselini. Here, he's portrayed as the stomach of a man who lies in bed thinking, and Alfred Hitchcock and Frederico Fellini appear among the many characters Isabella Rosselini portrays. It's more of a debate on film than a family reminiscence. The black-and-white short is directed by Guy Maddin. In the commentary, Maddin talks about his surprise at being asked to direct this "docufantasia."

10) "Forklift Driver Klaus" (Germany, 2000, 9 minutes)
A weird sense of humor pervades this mock instructional film about a newly licensed forklift driver. There's also a lot of gore, since the workplace mishaps include impalement and beheading. It's definitely funny, although whether it's funny ha-ha or funny strange depends on your mood and your tolerance for blood. Directed by Stefan Prehn and Jorg Warner in German. Each does his own commentary; Warner packs a lot of information into his, including the story of how noticing the potential for danger in a wayward knife while working in a book warehouse led to "Klaus."

11) "Uncle" (Australia, 1996, 6 minutes)
A clay animated short about an widower uncle who runs a hardware store, joins a strict religious group, and puts stuff in the incinerator. This one just didn't do much for me. Directed by Adam Elliot in black-and-white. In his commentary, Elliot notes that this is his very first film, done while still at school.

12) "Quartet for the End of Time" (Mexico, 1983, 17 minutes)
A clarinetist practices with his turtle along. He also sends a cascade of balloons out a window. Yawn! In black-and-white. Director Alfonso Cuaron, in his commentary, acknowledges that he was still learning when he made this one and that the ending isn't quite clear. That fuzzy ending ruins the point he was trying to make.

13) "Madame Tutli-Putli" (Canada, 2007, 17 minutes)
The pile looks like a lifetime of possessions, but it's just the baggage Madame Tutli-Putli brings on a train. Saboteurs with a bloody mission and a persistent moth make this an exciting and surreal trip. The detail on the puppets is amazing in this wordless stop-motion short. Animators Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski talk about going on a train to get the feel for motion in the commentary.

14) "A Girl's Own Story" (Great Britain, 1984, 25 minutes)
A girl's experimentation with sex leads to pregnancy. Sexual talk, a kid with a knife, and dysfunctional dinner conversation are featured in this grim black-and-white short directed by Jane Campion. No commentary.

15) "Borom Sarret" (Senegal, 1966, 18 minutes)
The driver of a horse-drawn cart finds trouble when he takes a fare to the rich Plateau in Senegal. The bleakness of his life and the contrast with the Plateau are handled well in this black-and-white short in French directed by Sembene Ousmene, whose son delivers the commentary.

16) "Soft" (Great Britain, 2007, 14 minutes)
A dad's attempts to teach his son how to handle neighborhood toughs without escalation gets complicated when the toughs gather outside their home—leading to an outbreak of violence. A gimmick—widescreen shots for the father/son story and boxed-in mobile phone shots for the toughs—helps convey emotion and perspective well. Director Simon Ellis shares his characters' motivations in the commentary.

There seems to be a premium on the strange, the surreal, and the intensely dramatic in this collection. Only Sembene Ousmene, with his "Borom Sarret," kept things totally low-key, preferring to let everyday life in Senegal speak for itself; it does so eloquently.

The two animated shorts, "La Vielle Dame et la Pigeons" and "Madame Tutli-Putli," are the only ones that I found to be pure joy—and I suspect they'll be among any viewer's favorites in this Cinema 16 collection. Elsewhere, "Judgement," "Attack on the Bakery," "Borom Sarret," and "Soft" had the most impact for me. "Sikumi" and "My Dad is 100 Years Old" were also notable. On the other end, only Alfonso Cuaron's student film, "Quartet for the End of Time," and Adam Elliot's lackluster "Uncle" completely failed to hit any emotional notes with me. Between those high and low points, you'll find films that are rough, but offer glimpses of talent or ideas.

In my screener copy, the pictures are often filled with flaws. That seems to be a hazard of the original low-budget films rather than a problem with the DVD, though. Some films, like "Madame Tutli-Putli" and "Soft," come over very well in this transfer.

Obviously, Cinema 16: World Short Films is not for everybody. The subjects and intensity, even in the animation, make it unsuitable for family viewing. Anyone with a low tolerance for experimentation in viewing should avoid it as well. For fans of the directors featured, film students, and hardy film buffs who are intrigued by the descriptions above, the experience will be mixed, but could be rewarding.

To paraphrase Guillermo del Toro, short films can be guilty of a lot of sins, but he also did some things right when making "Doña Lupe." I'll second his self-delivered verdict, for both his film and the collection.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Cinema16
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
• German
• Japanese
• Spanish
Running Time: 278 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Unrated
• Comedy
• Drama
• Foreign

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentaries

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