"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
1) "Wasp" (Great Britain, 2003, 24 minutes)
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
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)
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
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)
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
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)
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
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
14) "A Girl's Own Story" (Great Britain, 1984, 25
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)
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)
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
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.