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TIFF Short Cuts Capsules: ‘An Extraordinary Person,’ ‘Roland,’ ‘The End of Pinky’ & More

Written by , on September 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm 

With all the buzz around world premieres and gala events happening at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s easy to forget there is also a pretty stellar shorts program in the mix. Consisting of work spanning all genres, the format is a great way to experience new, upcoming talent as well as to check up on a couple familiar faces too. And—new this year—24 hours after their Festival premiere, films will be available to screen at YouTube.com/TIFF until September 19.

The following is a collection of capsule reviews, scores and full shorts where available for each film in screening block 5.

Programme 5

Impromptu – 10 minutes

A toast to messy life set against Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, animator Bruce Alcock’s Impromptu is a line-drawn kitchen extravaganza about an intimate dinner for two sprawling out into a massive party of fifteen plus. Man of the House Chuck is introduced chopping and cooking a mix of culinary treats with his toddler acting as sous chef in the hopes of engaging wife Sylvie in a serious conversation before she calls in the midst of a work celebration with the news that she invited everyone over for food. His brother-in-law arrives with lobster, friend Jeff knocks with new girlfriend Caroline in tow, and the number of guests increases as each second ticks off the clock and Chuck gets more and more overwhelmed.

Alcock keeps things light with humorous miscommunications about wine, stray birds coming in to roost, and a jazz band setting up shop in the living while also touching upon the heavier side of relationship compromise via Sylvie’s boss Hester and a knife accident rendering Chuck’s saintly acceptance of the situation unsure until he remembers how much he loves his family. The visuals grow more chaotic as the surprises mount high and thickly opaque color fields start entering the frame between the overlapping layers of characters and food swimming over a pristinely white backdrop. A glorious exercise in thick contour drawing piled atop each other with diminishing perspective, what’s vibrant and fun on its own should be a delightful treat during its 3D TIFF screening.

B

The End of Pinky – 8 minutes

A work of art for director Claire Blanchet’s textural animation style alone, the story based on Heather O’Neill’s Montreal noir The End of Pinky is just as beautifully rendered in its mysterious air. Hand-drawn figures filled in by an perpetually in-flux field of scratchy color walk around a seedy underbelly of downtown city streets, bars, and brothels painted in darkly rich hues and shrouded in shadow as translucent snow falls through the gaps in between. It’s a brilliantly realized aesthetic for a hardboiled piece touching upon ideas of complicated love, loyalty, and justice within a world run by amoral street heavy Johnny—a self-made “entrepreneur” moonlighting as his own judge, jury, and executioner.

O’Neill narrates her vividly descriptive universe as Blanchet brings its complex creatures of the night alive. It’s an evening of retribution for Johnny as friend and money launderer Pinky has returned home from a stint in jail where he played songbird. Johnny knows he must take care of his unfinished business with his now expendable comrade despite wanting to somehow forget what must be done in order to attend to the woman he’s been courting who now awaits his return. Torn between his feelings of warmth on her behalf and the cold detachment his line of work adopts, a lifetime of pain and suffering floods back to reinstate his steely gaze towards an inevitability Pinky put into motion himself.

And while we find ourselves leaving this tale as abruptly as we entered it, we can still guess as to what the end result will become. In a world as reliant on the black and white delineations between right and wrong as they exist inside the context of nefarious dealings such as those partaken by Johnny and Pinky, death is never a surprise.

A-

The Chaperone 3D – 11 minutes

What has exploding piñatas, hand-drawn cartoon reenactments, live-action kung fu knee kicks, and a puppet interlude of blue, bullying wolves? A middle school dance—well, sort of. Leave writers/directors/animators Fraser Munden and Neil Rathbone in control of the aesthetic and that’s exactly what an unforgettable 1973 night at the Montreal East gymnasium will end up looking like.

The Chaperone is a crazy, original multi-media documentary short telling the tale of a school dance that was crashed by a gang of motorcyclists. While retired teacher Ralph Whims (the titular authoritative escort) and DJ Stefan Czernatowicz narrate the details they remember all too well, Munden and Rathbone bring the words to life in a colorfully artistic way. After all, who wants to watch two men sitting and laughing about the time they kicked fourteen bikers’ butts in front of a bunch of scared adolescents when they can “watch” the carnage through a filter of youth-oriented mediums?

The story is already hilarious on its own due to the absurdity of an all-out adult brawl at a kids’ dance, so juxtaposing the details with a Sesame Street look only helps ease the tension of just how violent this incident was while also earning our smiles in the process. It can get a bit hectic as the visual style begins to switch faster and faster as it goes—with some vignettes having little to no relation to the fight at all—but there’s an infectious charm throughout that allows you to revel in the chaos and embrace the asides for their humor and tonal relevance.

From Whims’ suavely groomed hair to Stefan’s involuntary decision to throw him a stool to use as a weapon, the details of this night are obviously heightened for comedic effect while also shining a heroic light on two deserving men. And as Ralph gives his lesson on how to battle twelve guys solo, you can’t help but idolize his emboldened confidence knowing you’d be the first one arrested if you were caught doing the same thing today. This guy must have become a bona fide superhero to those kids.

B+

CRIME: Joe Loya – The Beirut Bandit – 2 minutes

Based on a book written by co-director Alix Lambert, Crime: The Animated Series uses directing partner and animator Samuel Chou’s almost exclusively two-tone graphic novel drawing style to bring tales of real life criminals to the internet in an attractive and compelling way. Joe Loya: The Beirut Bandit serves as episode two by juxtaposing an actual interview with the titular ex-bank robber—and author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell—explaining his first time in action and the unfortunate events that followed.

Lasting a paltry two-minutes, the short progresses at a nice pace with Loya’s natural charisma helping shape the visuals onscreen. The heist plays out like a comedy of errors with his carefully laid plans backfiring courtesy of inexperience and ignorance towards checking for heavily policed traffic before starting his car. It’s the origin story of a villain in moving comic; an illustration of the moment that told Loya what his profession would be upon leaving prison. Lambert and Chou have found a way to engage their audience with compelling non-fiction vignettes reenacted through the filter of a largely fictional medium rather than usual talking heads cliché.

B+

Numbers & Friends – 7 minutes

Writer/director Alexander Carson goes the faux-autobiography route to create a cinematic metaphor connecting fantasy sports and North American culture as a whole. Told in narration by Atli (Atli Bollason), we hear about his journey from Europe and the sense of isolation found upon his arrival. It’s through fantasy baseball that he begins to assimilate into this new world, devoting all his time and energy to statistics in order to acquire a team worthy of a championship. But as his cousin (Carson) soon explains, surfaces aren’t everything. To truly appreciate life, liberty, and freedom, one must make human contact with the souls of those around us not identities.

Numbers & Friends takes us through Atli’s realization that no matter how successful his team is or how many opponents covet his managerial skills, there’s no fun in the exercise. To give oneself over to the pleasure of sports and the unpredictability of rooting for a player you respect despite the stats he/she may put up on any given day is what it means to be a fan. Life is messy and full of surprises; you may win some or lose some but the experience learned is always the true reward. Sometimes you have to draft that player you know is over-the-hill or in a funk because he’s your guy. You can’t love the number, only the person behind it.

Carson teaches us this lesson with what he makes look like a mix of home video footage and still photography. The aesthetic helps us believe the film is a diary of sorts created by this stranger to our continent trying desperately to understand what we mean by the saying, “All’s fair in love, war, and fantasy sports”. While he may stumble and go off course, those in his corner will steer him in the right direction because of their unyielding love above failures and successes. We all let people down in life—especially ourselves. It’s what we do next that matters.
B

Roland – 11 minutes

The comedies are really working for me this year and Trevor Cornish‘s Roland is the latest success. A pitch-perfect depiction of retail doldrums and customer lunacy, the short riotously sends up the type of paranoia and fear that comes with the uncertainty of who comes and goes through the door on a nightly basis. You want to give the benefit of the doubt as often as possible, but sometimes you get the strange guy who won’t let up to the point of unwarranted profanity and destruction of property. Events like that taint the rest of your shift as some guiltily worry about whether they should have gone against policy to help after all while others fantasize about punching their transgressor in the face.

Centered on star employee Roland (Dan Beirne)—as compared to cashier Tracy’s (Lindsey Clark) complete ambivalence—it’s not long before his stocking shelves becomes interrupted by Frank (Richard Denison), an older gentleman hoping to use the art store’s employee restroom. A battle of words ensues and escalates until the boy’s staunch refusal finally causes Frank to knock over a display in frustration on his way out. Red paint flies onto Roland in a very Shaun of the Dead manner (complete with zombie reference later on) and every subsequent action becomes marked by this all too common event. More laugh-out-loud exchanges occur while he tries to wrap his head around what happened, constantly looking over his shoulder until his nightmare reappears.

There’s a lot of truth to what Cornish and cowriter Niall Kelly have created and I’m sure a large portion of society can relate to each joke with memories of similar, personal experiences. However, just like you never say “sir” or “ma’am” to anyone whose gender you aren’t one hundred percent certain, you never discuss one customer’s transgressions to another because every town turns out to be much smaller than you think. That’s Retail 101.

A-

An Extraordinary Person – 29 minutes

This is kind of my life—or at least as much as a film about a thirty-something female Ph.D. candidate who gets blackout drunk can be for a thirty-something male Bachelor’s degree holding nondrinker like myself. There’s just something about a kindred spirit unable to sleepwalk through the day-to-day feigning ignorance because it’s easier than accepting the reality of life being a series of misfortunes tempered by the oft-stroke of good luck that brings a smile to my face. Sarah (Magalie Lépine-Blondeau) fits the bill perfectly as someone more akin to stand in the corner laughing at the sheep than join in because tears will most assuredly flow when she does.

The directorial debut of actress Monia Chokri, Quelqu’un d’extraordinaire [An Extraordinary Person] is very much the product of someone who understands characters and the people tasked to bring them to life. She’s also obviously a keen judge of talent with Lépine-Blondeau’s face of pure displeasure proving a shining beacon of hope within the sea of fake smiles and practiced laughs surrounding it. Whether Sarah’s unimpressed judgmental attitude is a normal state or not, no one can blame it’s appearance with the day she’s had leading up to the film’s centerpiece bachelorette soiree. She did wake up in a stranger’s house after all only to eventually learn the man’s identity from the arrival of the house’s owner—his mother. The he: a sixteen-year old high school student.

With an intriguing shooting style appears to repeat pans and zooms from different cameras and angles before continuing the scene, there’s an almost voyeuristic feel to this party. The room is filled with cackles and uninterested queries about subjects societal convention deems worth asking and we travel towards each participant in close-ups and quick cuts as the half thoughts of one transition to the next and back again. It’s a cacophonous drone that would drive anyone crazy, so Sarah can’t really be blamed for jumping in the fray with a joke of her own. Unfortunately for the rest, their inane superfluity was extremely ill-prepared for the truth bombs she unleashed.

Equally hilarious and depressing, we watch as carefully manufactured façades built on the promise of ignorance being blissful crumble to the ground with Sarah as the unwitting catalyst. I use unwitting because her initial barb wasn’t meant to be vicious like the ones that followed after civility and decorum left the room. And just when we think her day can’t get worse, it does. But before she finally rests her eyes to try and put it all behind her, a glimmer of heartfelt honesty is found to make see this pariah for who she really is. Hateful and spiteful to those too full of themselves to understand the meaning of individual identity, Sarah ultimately proves she’s actually the only one with compassion.

A

Short Cuts Canada Programme 5 played at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11th & 12th.


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