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Our Guide to the Short Films of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival

Written by on September 14, 2015 

[Programme 1] [Programme 2] [Programme 3] [Programme 4]
[Programme 5] [Programme 6] [Programme 7] [Programme 8]
[Programme 9] [Programme 10] [Programme 11]

Programme 9
Premiering Tuesday, September 15th at 10:00pm | TIFF Bell Lightbox

The Swimming Lesson, dir. Olivia Boudreau, 11 min. – Canada

The synopsis talks about how Olivia Boudreau‘s Le cours de natation [The Swimming Lesson] shows a seven-year old girl (Jasmine Lemée) getting the opportunity to take a step forward towards independence. I find that to be more than a little misleading. This notion is included, especially considering her mother (Marilyn Castonguay) simply gives her a nudge in the locker room before leaving without a word, but does Lemée actual embrace this newfound self-sufficiency? Someone eventually collects her from the solitude of crippling fear on a poolside bench, leading her into the water for a bit of basic exercise, but a quick psychological jolt sends her into a metaphorically vast ocean all alone. The film provides Lemée the step, but she refuses to comply.

Instead the result proves to be more an example of bad parenting than anything else. And while I’d say it was a success in this goal—the production is high quality and the acting true-to-life—I don’t believe it was Boudreau’s intent. Perhaps it was and the person writing the marketing blurb didn’t understand, but Boudreau still has final approval of such things, right? I don’t see a child finding strength when I watch Lemée smile at others but never engage them. I don’t notice it in her daydream of hope for the warmth she’s obviously not getting at home either. To me the film is a sad story of woe, a little girl silently crying for help and love but not receiving any. I wouldn’t be surprised if she never got back into the water again.

C-

Latchkey Kids, dir. Elad Goldman, 22 min. – Israel

Love takes many forms and sometimes they can be confusing when you’ve never experienced a divide. For Gur (Yoav Rotman) and Daniel (Gaia Shalita Katz), growing up with absentee parents and for all intents and purposes raising each other has cultivated a deeply rooted bond. They’ve promised to never leave the other alone and they mean it. But while Daniel has matured to the point of understanding that loyalty stems from a familial place, Gur still cannot separate a sense of ownership in her love. It has crippled him to become uncomfortable with his girlfriend Osnat’s (Tamara Friedland) desire for a sexual evolution in their relationship. And it has filled him with jealous rage towards whatever boy Daniel decides to bring home.

Latchkey Kids becomes a rather intriguing watch as a result of this because it’s hard to separate the concept of incest from the idea of being over-protective. Writer/director Elad Goldman takes care to never truly push it to the dark places a more twisted mind utilizing the horror genre would, but the connotation is hard to ignore. It becomes the duty of the actors to overcome this taboo with an honesty to their performances that makes their actions believable in context with the sheltered lives devoid of an adult hand to steer them they’ve led. I don’t think anything sexual would ever occur between them, but it surely could from the outside looking in like where Evyatar’s (Hillel Cappon) potential suitor to Daniel resides.

Rotman and Katz are fantastic in their roles, changing from the happy calm of routine and comradery to the pained response of lies and manipulation. Gur’s world is collapsing around him as their age exceeds the constraints of where their bond has taken them. Daniel’s already has fallen—this is why she seeks the comfort of a normal romantic love to complement the platonic one shared with her brother. It’s as much a desire for joy as it is an escape from the stifling atmosphere that’s grown at home. Even so, blood is thicker than water and at a certain point she does have to choose. No matter what her head says, her heart will ultimately prevail. She may not be quite as ready to let go as she thinks.

B


Waves ’98, dir. Ely Dagher, 15 min. – Lebanon/Qatar

Downtown Beirut is Waves ’98‘s lead character Omar’s (Elie Bassila)—a virtual, teenage stand-in for writer/director Ely Dagher—”white whale”. It’s a world he has yet to experience close-up, relegated to peering over and through concrete buildings from his safe suburban rooftop at a city split in two between the Muslim West and Christian East. Safety comes at the price of monotony and boredom, a perpetual news cycle of chaos and talk for peace that does nothing but instill fear or posit empty promises. The question becomes when enough will prove enough to finally cross the border and see what’s true himself. The answer is the allure of a glowing aura beckoning him to do so.

This light is the hope and promise of a rejuvenated city, a beacon to attract young open-minded people to cut through the prejudices and segregation and find a common ground of beauty in a once-great city. Manifested as a sort of Pleasure Island within a mammoth golden elephant housing the memory of its glory and joy for those willing to remember. Is it a fantasy—some communal aspiration fragile enough to shatter into pieces once sleep is disturbed? At a certain point our avoidance of reality’s harshness or desire for more serve only as idle thoughts without action so we’ll awaken decades later to the same circumstances or worse. Beirut is calling and to answer is to do more than dream.

My cousin visited Lebanon a couple years back when he was working in Saudi Arabia—the only family member of my generation (and perhaps our parents’) to do so despite distant relatives still residing in the country. The consummate tourist with camera in hand, he neglected to heed the warnings of signs demarking these religious/political/ideological borders and started snapping across their invisible lines. Someone saw and made him stop because paranoia and fear rule above the desire to share what the country has to offer to anyone willing to discover it. I couldn’t imagine being born within this quagmire like Dagher, minutes from the heart of a giant city like Beirut yet unsure of what might happen after closing that gap.

Telling what in his words is an “artistic exploration of [his] current relation with Lebanon” as much as narrative via animation (with some video footage mixed in) is the perfect way to depict the crumbling ruins against the hopeful paradise this elephant that never forgets projects. The emotion of this relationship can’t help but hypothesize about an unknown that his imagination can render as a re-creation of the past now that the present seems to be moving farther away from it. As an outsider you begin to lose the intimate grasp once possessed, the truth now separated by an expanding ocean. But just as those waves threaten to pull us away, they also have the power to push us back to shore.

B+

The Guy From Work, dir. Jean-François Leblanc, 14 min. – Canada
The Fantastic Love of Beeboy & Flowergirl, dir. Clemens Roth, 10 min. – Germany

In the grand picture book aesthetic of Bryan Fuller‘s Pushing Daises, Clemens Roth‘s The Fantastic Love of Beeboy & Flowergirl is a delightful little fantasy of over-the-top whimsy. Peter (Florian Prokop) is forced to live inside a bee suit due to killer bees perpetually floating around him like dirt on Peanuts‘ Pig-Pen, destined to create honey and live a life of solitude. Elsa (Elisa Schlott), a waitress who loves flowers the world over and makes them out of origami, is full of life and wonder beyond her four walls. One fateful day they meet, fall in love, and try to find a way to rid themselves of the bees to live happily ever after. Compromise isn’t changing one half for the benefit of the other, though, and like with most relationships something else must be done.

Narrated by the affably soothing voice of Martin Umbach, this eccentric tale of romance is littered with flashbacks, diagrams, and carefully curated sets to describe and/or deflect from courtesy of language much rosier than what we witness onscreen. Watching as the bees simultaneously torturing and providing sustenance to Peter kill his parents earns a chuckle if only because it’s flippantly dismissed as a tiny, unfortunate detail that couldn’t be avoided. The juxtaposition of sunny disposition and dark subject matter continues towards a “Romeo and Juliet”-esque finale that brings a smile to your face despite knowing exactly what the words spoken mean. But that’s the thing about love, isn’t it? It’s messy, complicated, and worth every single concession if success can be found in their aftermath.

I love the tone and the look of Roth’s work with everything placed just left of reality. After all, Peter and Elsa are seeking to leave it for the fantasyland of happiness their union seems too troublesome to find for an extended period of time. The bees appear to be animated wood block sculptures and the flowers enhanced rice paper creations glowing and moving in their folded, box-like way while the rest is left to the imagination with empty jars supposedly full of honey and newly discovered blossoms from exotic lands built at a desk without the necessity of travel. Roth’s short is infectious in its minimalist grandeur and gorgeous to behold as its bittersweet depiction of love’s sacrifices show what it ultimately means to choose it over everything else. Love quite literally conquers all.

B+

Peacock, dir. Ondrej Hudecek, 26 min. – Czech Republic


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