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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 11
Premiering Wednesday, September 16th at 10:00pm | Scotiabank Theatre

A Few Seconds, dir. Nora El Hourch, 16 min. – France

It starts with sex—violent sex. Out of context you don’t quite know the exact circumstances, but everything makes sense once you hear Zenib’s (Charlotte Bartocci) voice against starkly quiet images of the Parisian hosting center where she resides. Raped and left with a child she’s begun to love, Zenib prays he will look like her so as not to become one more remembrance of an assailant that haunts her dreams. This group of haunted souls that has become her friends helps, providing an escape from the terror even if everyone’s a bit on edge and easily pushed to explode in violent rages themselves. But for the most part they enjoy each other’s company, laughing and even going out for a night of kinetic excitement when the inspiration hits.

By focusing on Zenib, Nora El Hourch‘s A Few Seconds begins as a piece of hopeful optimism—of tragedy turning to promise. Her tale is but one side of the coin, however, and the filmmaker is quick to show the second halfway through via Sam (Marie Tirmont). Unlike her ready-to-pop friend, Sam cannot see a rosy outcome nor hold onto something that could turn the horror she experienced into anything more than a waking nightmare. She’s withdrawn, trapped inside her head, and unable to break free. This is what you imagine when you hear about such heinous acts—a victim scarred, forever lost in the memory of what mankind is capable of doing, and reconciled to mistrusting everyone around her. She and Zenib have gone in opposite directions and neither can be blamed.

The film’s complex with even more characters than these two to show how society and decency has failed. Just look at Jessica (Camille Lellouche) and Gloria’s (Maly Diallo) rage and frustration lashing out at one another, using their tough exteriors for punching bags when the people they’d like to get back at are nowhere to be found. Add Bonhomme’s (Charlotte-Victoire Le Grain) desire to mediate and stop the rest from going too far and you have a full-fledged community running the gamut of disparate personalities and demeanors to show how universal abuse is. It doesn’t target the weak, but a complete gender with no exception. Quite literally a few seconds can change you forever—the how is unknown. What’s certain is that the choice between life and death is much closer than you’d expect.


BAM, dir. Howie Shia, 5 min. – Canada

While Howie Shia‘s aesthetic is accurately labeled gritty, that grit is less about being aggressive or “dirty” than it is about lending it an experimental film beauty gorgeous to behold against polished Hollywood studio fare. Just like its main character, BAM becomes a powder keg of duality with its two halves clashing to create something wholly unique and impossible to categorize. Greek Gods in giant blue form loom over the proceedings as the young boy they watch wrestles with an implicit brute force he cannot reconcile against a quiet contemplative desire to do good. It’s a struggle that makes his most selfless moments manifest as much or more fear in those witnessing his actions than when he’s at his most selfish. That rage cultivates his compassion and suppresses it in one flew swoop.

A contemporary urban retelling of Hercules at its core, Shia’s grungy style conjures images of Keith Haring‘s work with a Cubist spin—especially with the larger Gods slumped and curved. The paint wipes and ink smears signifying a subway train’s speed delivers brilliant design that speaks via form and material, retaining its artifice just as its man-made rendering evolves into something beyond mere representation. We become consumed by this black and white lined world, wondering about the flourishes of blue seen floating inside and outside the central boxer moving from childhood to teen years to a career and ultimately love. The color soon proves his reservoir of immortal strength, growing as the years pass until discovering he’ll do anything for it to drain away from his soul. The epitome of the bully archetype, he’s simultaneously fearsome and frightened.

Sans dialogue in lieu of music composed by his brothers Leo (hip-hop artist LEO37) and Tim instilling a sense of metallic masculinity rising in volume with anger and softening with remorse, BAM hinges on its visuals and character nuance to understand what’s on display. The cuts from instigation to eyes sharpening and fists coiling to his quick burst of violence culminating in a tragic look by those watching that screams, “He’s a monster!” perfectly encapsulate the aggression he cannot subdue. His menacing face in the ring juxtaposed with a small smile alongside his better half depicts the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic we all combat at some point in our lives. The worst fear possible is the one pointed within—that uncertainty in whether we can stop being what society deems we must despite perpetually being to our detriment.


The Man Who Shot Hollywood, dir. Barry Avrich, 12 min. – Canada
The Magnetic Nature, dir. Mateo Bendesky, 17 min. – Argentina
4 Quarters, dir. Ashley McKenzie, 13 min. – Canada
Rate Me, dir. Fyzal Boulifa, 17 min. – UK
Bird Hearts, dir. Halfdan Olav Ullmann Tøndel, 25 min. – Norway

Ah the quarter-life crisis. Turning twenty-six and finding you’re still at university and pretty much ignored by everyone in your life when compared to a younger brother away at a prestigious school and already published to boot. What should be Benjamin’s (André Sørum) day becomes just another family get-together, one with distractions, differing tastes, and alternative priorities leaving him wanting. Everyone seeks to know what Tobias (Steinar Klouman Hallert) has been up to, each busy fawning over little Lucy baking a cake to see Benjamin’s hurt and discomfort. We’re all selfish in this way, trying to juggle so much in so little time that our want for perfection leads to sanitized expressions and canned responses. Love turns into routine and before we know it another twenty-five years passes with nothing to show and even less to feel proud.

On top of this existential breakdown comes one more example of insufficiency. And the best part of its revelation is that Benjamin asked for it—demanded it even. Because at the center of twenty-five year old Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel‘s Bird Hearts is a candid evening under the stars with his girlfriend Maya (Stine Sørensen), brother Tobias, friend Veronica (Eline Grødal), and him. Sexual exploits are shared and when it comes time for Maya to spill the goods Benjamin happily eggs her on. Unbeknownst to everyone, however, is that a four-month stay in South America before they met contained a wild, public escapade of pleasure she still remembers in vivid detail. So just as the birthday boy is at an all-time low watching his junior sibling surpass him in life, he misguidedly believes he cannot satisfy the woman he loves.

This explicit memory has reverberations everyone who heard it, but Benjamin simply cannot shake the paranoia of never being good enough—for Maya, his family, or himself. Tøndel puts his character’s insecurities on full display until he becomes his own worst enemy, depression and a lack of self-worth working to push those he wants closer farther and farther away. Highly relatable and extremely authentic, we watch him pathologically dismantle his life by being too stubborn to accept the past as the past or acknowledge the how present will never be beholden to it. The awkwardness is palpable especially with Tobias suffering through the uncertainty of whether to console or ignore. When it rains it pours and Benjamin cannot tread water faster enough. We try so hard to be strong that we inevitably forget vulnerability is far from weakness.

It’s what makes us human.


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