Monday, April 28, 2008

Festival du Court Métrage de Bruxelles

No Sean, Court Métrage was not where I found myself at 2 am in Brussels for drinking Jupiler in the Grand Place. It's a film festival that I stumbled upon Saturday consisting of 10 days of short (court) films by Le Belge as well as international directors. It will be hard to review so many works from so many different places, let alone do them justice, but I'm going to give it my best shot. I'll probably do some off-the-cuff blogging, but the intent will be to eventually come up with some larger piece that will inevitably end up trashing Hollywood for having less creativity in it's entire summer program than one séance here. You might well rip me for establishing my thesis prior to actually seeing these shorts, but one day in and I am already impressed.

Day 1 - International Competition 6 (I've linked to the individual IMDB or movie pages when available)

There are 8 programs for the festival consisting of the 44 shorts that will be in competition for the international prize. I'm going to try to see all of these.

IC #6 got off to a great start with Reto Kaffi's half-hour long Auf der Strecke (Swiss/German), which immediately eased my concern that I would be watching a series of spirited, but amateur, productions. Aside from an ease with the camera and production values that would make 88 Minutes blush, Kaffi is also able to create fully rounded characters as well as a engaging story line. The action follows a security guard (a fantastic André Meyer) who has a near stalker's obsession with a young woman who works in the bookstore he guards (he tries to impress her by buying a Zadie Smith novel!). Not only does he spend his days following her with his "zoom camera," but he also takes the same subway line. Kaffi has a great eye for the limitless interest public transportation provides (he made a previous short entitled Bus-Stop 99) and the scenes of subtle glances on the subway are superb. A tragic incident in which Meyer behaves less than admirably brings them closer, but Kaffi doesn't offer him up as either monster or lovable loser. Instead of some revelation about our protagonist, we get a well-paced drama that touches on a number of themes about voyeurism and longing, death and loss, and all those other cool things. Oh, and the final shot is as beautiful as anything I've seen all year.

At the other end of the spectrum (and program) was a brilliant little comedic piece by Tesmo Elso about a taxi system worse than Boston's simply called Taxi? (Spanish). A man just trying to visit his mother finds himself bombarded by questions from the driver that apparently have no end: conversation or no conversation? chit-chat or no chit-chat? surly or no? sports, politics, or entertainment? local sports or national? Futbol or not? Barcelona or Madrid?, etc. A gag like this can only last so long, but the timing and faded black and white film work well. While this was probably made with the intention of getting Elso some advertising work (it's closer to a long commercial than a short film), it was the perfect way to end the program.

I was relieved to see Taxi? because it came on the heels of two well intentioned, but (well) boring, shorts by Jan Wagner (Poland) and Melanie McGraw (USA) about poor little kids who feel alienated. The less said about the former the better, but Wagner's Moj Brat (My Brother) lags with too many shots of a young boy just sort of staring at his older brother. And not in some cool, experimental, way, but just still shots of nothing happening. I would say more but one day later and I can barely remember what happened.

McGraw's Pitstop was interesting, but suffered from the hokey set-up of a young girl (Maggie, pictured above) with a camera being accidentally left by her family at a gas station to meet a beautiful and wise older woman (June) who makes exquisite leather handiworks. Andrea Helene does a great job as June (trying her best to downplay her considerable hotness ) but the character is just too obvious: old, alone, but not bitter and more than happy to dole out advice and free leather goods from her middle-of-nowhere gas station. The direction was fantastic, and McGraw has a great eye (like Maggie) for finding beauty in ugliness, but the credibility of June as a real person is seriously in doubt. I have a feeling McGraw is very young (I think I sat next to her parents), so hopefully she will grow out of these idealized characters and find a narrative voice as accomplished as her visual style.

While Taxi? showed some interesting work with direction, the two most original shorts were Constantin Palavios's Ti einai auto? (What is that?) and the animated La Saint-Festin by Anne-Laure Daffis and Léo Marchand. At only 5 and a half minutes long with one scene, two actors and a crude, computer-animated sparrow, Ti einai auto? (Greece) still manages to break your heart. It's just an old man whose memory is gone repeating the same question over and over again to his son, but Palavios still manages to get almost every emotion possible out of the son: boredom, sadness, anger, and finally acceptance of his father's condition.

La Saint-Festin (France) is the product of (at least) two incredibly creative minds, as both the story and animation are full of clever innovations (a possibly homicidal chef) and wonderful visual juxtapositions (drawings done over old photographs, animated flamenco dancers engaging with old movies). Daffis and Marchand could have possibly tried to push the nastier aspects of their film more before the inevitable happy ending , but it's hard to criticize anything that is this alive on-screen.

One day down, and nine to go! Aside from the shorts in international competition, I'm going to try to see some of the "best-of" European programs, as well as a series on the Belgian experimental director Nicolos Provost and a "Great Director" series with an old short by RFC favorite David Lynch! Oh, and just to make Sean jealous, the pass for all of this is a scant 20 euros!

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