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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 2
Premiering Friday, September 11th at 9:45pm | Scotiabank Theatre

People Are Becoming Clouds, dir. Marc Katz, 15 min. – USA

There’s a cute conceit at the heart of Marc Katz‘s People Are Becoming Clouds. John (David Ross) and Eleanor (Libby Woodbridge) have recently been married and ever since moving into a new apartment together have found she tends to transform into a cloud. Sometimes the type is in accord with her mood as far as color and lightning, others find her as distinct shapes like a dove playing a trumpet. In order to try and combat their struggle they seek Dr. Corduroy’s (Sean Cullen) assistance. According to him this ailment has become very common lately—a metaphoric nod to the hardships of a contemporary world where everyone has their own individualism to reconcile with their union to the person they love. A chasm has formed and its escape manifests as hiding under the guise of a meteorological anomaly.

Katz’s decision to use clouds works because of their multi-faceted natures of proving soft and fluffy, confrontationally volatile, and completely open to interpretation. The latter brings an inherent humor as the psychiatrist nods an “ah-huh” whenever John describes Eleanor’s form. It’s as though he has a guidebook to what shape means what and cannot wait to have them come back once a week to describe each one. Unfortunately the absurdity of the situation is almost too much to bear and I found myself craving an explanation beyond being an acceptable oddity. Besides explaining it results from highly emotional circumstances—a sort of knee-jerk reaction to sensitive topics as a defense mechanism—it simply is. Sometimes that’s enough because the filmmaker builds off his rules and delivers weighty commentary above, but this time it needed more beneath the surface.

I needed a breakthrough in therapy rather than introductory checklists. I needed broader humor to acknowledge the craziness of what occurs rather than sly smirks. The idea is wonderful and the characters embrace it whole-heartedly, but its execution through story lacks substance. Unfolding like the start of something bigger, a phenomenon taking everyone by storm (pun intended), it ends right when those answers appear ready to be revealed. We don’t see it happening to anyone else, no one freaks out when Eleanor changes, and it suddenly feels normal with nothing left to worry about. To me this shines depression and psychological disorder under a flippant light. Rather than seek to fix a problem or vocalize one exists, everyone laughs and airs frustrations until cloud metamorphosis becomes routine. Sadly, ignoring such pain and discomfort is the worst thing you can do.

C

Wellington Jr., dir. Cécile Paysant, 12 min. – France
Dogs Don’t Breed Cats, dir. Cristina Martins, 15 min. – Canada
Dragstrip, dir. Daniel Claridge, Pacho Velez, 4 min. – USA

The Toronto International Film festival programmers are selling Daniel Claridge and Pacho Velez‘s short documentary Dragstrip as an “exhilarating blast of raw Americana”, but I’m not sure if it isn’t actually evidence of our affinity with the mundane instead. Shot at the Lebanon Valley Dragway in Upstate New York, the film captures a slice of racing life in static shots aurally filled with the roar of engines and voice of a loudspeaker. We don’t actually see the cars in motion, but rather the drivers in anticipation and spectators following the track with heads moving left to right in tandem. It’s the glorification of the banal—a visual representation of America’s hobbies being less about the event than our reaction to it.

I feel the same sense of boredom I experienced the one time I went to a racetrack because the filmmakers portray it without filter. To me the most exciting aspect was watching how excited and involved those around me were—wondering if they would be as ambivalent to the main event of something I was passionate about as I was of this. The sense of awe in their voices and eyes following a bunch of cars in circles is a captivating sight. It makes you want to enter their minds to understand exactly what it is that so entrances them. Dragstrip therefore goes beyond Americana into mankind’s psyche on a grander, purer scale. A ritual so barebones and devoid of Nascar’s bells and whistles, the sport itself hits them in a way I’m envious to replicate.

B-

It’s Not You, dir. Don McKellar, 12 min. – Canada
Barbados, dir. Misha Manson-Smith, 7 min. – USA
Blue Spring, dir. Andreea Cristina Bortun, 15 min. – Romania
Maman(s), dir. Maïmouna Doucouré, 21 min. – France

Young Aida (Sokhna Diallo) is forced to process a lot on the day her father (Eriq Ebouaney‘s Alioune) returns to Paris from Senegal after two months away. First is the joyous laughter of mom (Maïmouna Gueye‘s Mariam) and her friends burning an herbal aphrodisiac up her dress. Next is the happiness of seeing him finally walk through the door with love and an embrace. Before anyone can get too excited, though, smiles turn to confusion at the fact he hasn’t come alone. With him is Rama (Mareme N’Diaye), baby in arms. The audience and Mariam infer rather quickly what this situation entails, but Aida isn’t quite sure. Does her father not love her mother anymore? Who is this stranger? And why is mom so distraught?

These are the conditions writer/director Maïmouna Doucouré thrusts upon this eight-year old character in Maman(s). The whole is shown from her vantage point—the curiosity, bewilderment, and anger evolving one to the next as snippets of dialogue and interaction is gleaned throughout each day. Her brother (Azize Diabaté Abdoulaye) is practically unfazed, happy his dad is back and possibly thinking about the prospect of two wives in his own future. What we’re watching is obviously a patriarchal union for Rama to even be let into this house and Aida is officially opening her eyes to what that means. The newcomer has her own container of incense that’s bigger than her mom’s, so maybe that’s the issue.

What begins as innocent disobedience in a show of loyalty to Mariam, Aida’s frustrations begin to mirror the scorned wife until she tearfully takes drastic measures. You can’t even really blame the child because she hasn’t been prepared for the difficulties of life through unknown circumstances. Mom and Dad aren’t quick to lift the curtain so soon, but shielding her from the truth of the emotions and anger they feel only amplifies their effect. Doucouré says a lot with very little, putting us in Aida’s shoes to witness her mind reading this betrayal as simple black and white. There’s so much more happening on the fringes, though, yet all she sees is an intruder. What’s therefore a quicker route back to normalcy than excising it?

B+


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