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October 23, 2021
ARTS & LEISURE

“Shorts Up” marathon – under the sign of parody

The simultaneous marathon of last year’s top short feature films did not fall short of expectations. The winner of the Public’s Choice Award in the Clermont-Ferrand Festival, “Comme le temps passe”, directed by Caty Verney, could have easily reaped the public’s accolades in the four Romanian cities which hosted “Shorts Up”. The typical French flavours: youthful anti-bourgeois Left leanings, the ambiguous taste left by gatherings of friends, the more than strictly geographic alternation between the capital and the province. Slightly pale shades, reminiscent of an existential mist, the ambivalent group dynamics, the moralizing satire (a somewhat more intricate variation on “ridendo castigat mores”). Versatile performances both in terms of dialogues and expressivity: high-pitched amplitudes, abrupt slides, recurrent jamming. It is interesting that the centre of gravity of the story should not lie in its denouement. Beyond the sadness of a friendship broken, ultimately, by diverging trajectories, an emotion filtered in a revealing crescendo, what is emphasized is the alternative life project. The mixed taste of parody, hilarious enthusiasm, a strong-willed autarchy, all reveal, above all, authenticity and candour. By striving to remain young at heart, ever re-inventing one’s life, even under the banner of ridicule.


“Nunta lui Oli” [Oli’s wedding], directed by Tudor Giurgiu, falls in the category of Romanian films on the confused condition of the migrant. A father watches, on webcam, his son’s Arizona wedding. A flat in a grey blocks’ area (as can be inferred from the fleeting glimpse of a tiny window), a narrow kitchen (not just in terms of space), a mood as depressing as that in a cage. The local universe is, thus, captured in two dimensions: oppressive for the young man who left it, sorrowful for the lonely father. “Nunta lui Oli” is not free from the endemic fault of an openly didactic illustration: the young man’s wedding seems to be based on interest, whereas the condition of those remaining in the land is one of unavoidable failure, elements which endow the story with a cheap moralizing aspect. However, the context of emigration remains a merely conjectural one, the main theme is, rather, loneliness. An alienated son (even before his emigration, as suggested by the tensed politeness of the Internet dialogue), an empty home (a metaphor of a soul reduced to the immanent flow of life), a “party” which is never completed (as if reduced to the hurried meal in a commuters’ canteen or the leftovers of a party interrupted before its time). The sense of a deafening void is emphasized by the hint of a potential new defection: there is nothing that truly binds the father to the homeland, he is merely an Oli too old to emigrate. That is why the small Romanian flat is not as much the space of loneliness, as a “ruin” all but abandoned.


An entirely different picture is painted by “Muzica in sange” [Music in the blood], directed by Alexandru Mavrodineanu, exploring the classical theme of the parent dreaming to turn one’s child into a star (remember Visconti’s “Bellissima” of 1951). We’re in the world of Gipsies and manele singers, featuring Dan Bursuc as himself, in his talent-scout capacity. The part of the father is played by Andi Vasluianu, combining the resourceful individual’s versatility with the shyness outbursts of the humble man. The active system of “friends in high places”, the contemptuous attitude of the one who “made” it, sympathy for the fiddler’s vocation, against the background of bringing down the barrier of social anonymity, all these endow an otherwise banal film with a life-like quality.


A more ambitious production is “Derby” (directed by Paul Negoescu), a bitter-sweet satire on the gap between parents and children. A father suspects his daughter of premature sexual activity. Whether it is a compensatory projection (the father gorges himself on Coca-Cola in excess), whether it is a belated expression of fatherly concern (the wife teases him, claiming he doesn’t even know what grade his daughter is in), the suspicion is both comic and tragic. Hypocritical morality reflects, in fact, the lack of a pedagogical model, masked by an absurd generation gap (disguised, in turn, by a hilarious argument between football fans). It is not concern over his daughter’s morals which motivates him, but a curiosity sprung from frustration.


One of the most artistic shorts presented in the festival was the Oscar winner in the fiction section, “The New Tenants” (directed by Joachim Black). Dark humour (somewhat reminiscent of the Coen Brothers), a savoury vein of subtle intellectual satire, the refinement of intertwining aesthetics, the gay romance cherry on the cake of a “film noir” parody, an acting recital complete with self-ironic expressivity. Jealousy within a couple, the drug-addict’s violence, the tensions of a gay couple, the anxiety of growing old, all these combined highlight a story which seems to follow the rhythm of a jazz improvisation session.


Despite the Golden Bear awarded in the Berlinale, “Incident by a Bank” (directed by Ruben Ostlund) is a more modest production. Shot like an amateur video from a balcony (as suggested by the clumsy movements), it plays exclusively on the hilarious quality of an implausible situation. A bank robbery as ridiculous as if it were an animation, some curious passers-by wavering between fear and the appeal of a free show, an unexpectedly comic denouement. The aesthetic interest springs rather from the mood of improvisation, which seems to extend from the “robbers”’ actions to the entire human scene captured by the “amateurish” gaze. A sense of the absurd, as in a tragicomic nightmare, unerringly banal otherwise.


“Instead of Abracadabra” (directed by Patrik Eklund) is another work in the parodic key which is the postmoderns’ trademark. The ambivalent relations between parents and (grown-up) children, the aura of the misfit, a downplayed eroticism, the farce-like atmosphere, the schizoid quality of the bourgeois world. Beyond these lies, however, the charm of silent comedy gags, unpredictable, of a playful buoyancy, as well as the child-like fascination with fairground tricks.


For the fans of classical animation, with well-shaped characters (the kind, but naïve, man, the loyal and cautious dog, the cruel and deceitful woman, the shy and victimized she-dog), with irreducible “moral” antinomies (along the lines of good and evil), “Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death” paints a reassuring picture.

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