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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 3
Premiering Saturday, September 12th at 7:00pm | Scotiabank Theatre

A New Year, dir. Marie-Ève Juste, 11 min. – Canada
Boxing, dir. Grayson Moore, Aidan Shipley, 13 min. – Canada
Semele, dir. Myrsini Aristidou, 13 min. – Cyprus/Greece/USA

As children we crave time with our parents—especially when quality family outings prove few and far between. The titular Semele (Vasiliki Kokkoliadi) in Myrsini Aristidou‘s short film will do anything to force some face-to-face, even going so far as hitch-hiking her way to the carpentry plant where her father works to acquire his signature on a school form. Mom’s nowhere to be seen and who knows how long it’s been since Semele and Aris (Yannis Stankoglou) were even in the same room together considering a query about getting pizza for dinner is met with a drag on his cigarette and the declaration he has to go back on the clock. It’s amazing to think such uncertainty and isolation could render a quick trip to the convenience store the best part of a little girl’s week.

Semele is above all else a wonderful character study with two great performances lending a complex range of emotions to what would otherwise appear to be an innocuous situation. To see Kokkoliadi’s smile and genuine excitement at being with her father during the day and somewhere he cannot escape is to also she the pain and suffering their distance has built. Stankoglou’s blank face of shock noticing her in the corner while slicing through blocks of wood gives us all we need to know concerning the stoic nature that puts her out of sight/out of mind. She has intruded upon a part of his life that he takes care to separate and he’s quick to usher her away. Not because it’s a dangerous place, he just isn’t prepared to be her father in this venue.

As soon as Aris shoos Semele to “stay put and not move” we know something will occur to make him confront the merging of these worlds—to tear down his armor and show her the love he doesn’t often share. Glimpses of playfulness and treating her as an equal when engaged in petty larceny proves it’s possible, but showing anger rather than worry for the girl’s journey risks ruining any good will such moments construct. Sometimes we need the smallest of gestures to negate our loneliness—a simple acknowledgement that we exist as more than a chore. It’s easy as a parent to forget this until a moment arrives where the child’s well being becomes paramount to everything else. If you’re to be ignored anyway, what’s the harm in risking injury in the hope they’ll finally see you?

B

Deszcz (Rain), dir. Malina Maria Mackiewicz, 5 min. – Australia
Bacon & God’s Wrath, dir. Sol Friedman, 9 min. – Canada

I apologize to both my grandmothers because Razie Brownstone is my new hero. Kosher for 90 years of life, it was a journey through “the Google” by way of “the internet” that shook her faith. All the questions she never thought could be answered suddenly became available with a few keystrokes—sometimes Google even anticipated exactly what she wanted to ask. We’ve all fallen down rabbit holes of information overload and alternative opinions infiltrating our brains to cement themselves as core belief, but it’s something else to see nine decades of devout practice brought on by strict parents and even stricter grandparents simply disappear in an instant. With so many religions and such crazy reasons for things blindly held as gospel, how could she not take a step back? How could she not willfully try bacon for breakfast?

It’s a cute idea for a documentary and Sol Friedman cashes in on the simplicity of Razie’s endearing personality to make Bacon & God’s Wrath an enjoyable look at how quick we are to adhere to tradition without fully understanding the “why”? His subject is amazing—the definition of adorable and smart as a whip. She knows exactly what she’s doing and is fearless about the consequences. After all, how real could a punishment suffered by her great aunt at the hands of a town full of angry orthodox Jews be—a retribution too horrible to share—for something so small as eating a non-kosher item? Is bacon really so blasphemous if people devour it the world over? Is it worth worrying whether God will strike her down at her age anyway?

Beyond Razie’s intrinsic likeability, Friedman has fun with the proceedings by animating her history and bringing things like an electronic tablet and a boar’s head to life. Even the static shots of Razie relaying answers to his questions are done with intrigue by playfully filming her lying down. You’ll think the whole endeavor is something to laugh at going in with such senior citizen chestnuts as adding “the” to every unknown thing, but the truth is we actually laugh with her or not at all. Razie commands our respect and our attention, preaching a realization that faith and God might have no bearing on anything earthly at all. And when these thoughts come from a woman who’s lived a charmed life in Judaism’s good graces, its inspiring to see reason stop her rather than go on believing it’s been God’s doing and not hers all along.

B+

The Ballad of Immortal Joe, dir. Hector Herrera, 6 min. – Canada

Written in memory of a family member, Pazit Cahlon‘s Western poem The Ballad of Immortal Joe sounds like a nursery rhyme but plays like a bittersweet romance of cursed love. Directed and animated by Hector Herrera, the short has an eye-catching aesthetic with dark palette and deep gradients atop playful characters straight out of the opening credits to Monsters, Inc. Some figures have six eyeballs, others four legs, and all are a little left of center in an imaginative way to engage children with wild art while also touching adults with its melancholic tome. Music by The Sadies enhances the mood and we listen as Kenneth Walsh‘s narration shares with a stranger in the desert the titular hero’s tale of woe.

The lyrical nature of the work sticks with you as well as its message of being better for those no longer here with us. Flashbacks of why Joe wanders alone under the crescent moon weave in with a campfire of today as decorative script illustrates words from the deceased telling him to carry on his fight to defend the defenseless for all time. Sung in the tradition of Robert W. Service—of whom I am sadly not familiar—the piece hits you in the heart and soul before it’s done. There’s beauty to its sorrow and magic to its style, uplifting in its embrace of tragedy as a way towards redemption and honor. A hard-edged Dr. Seuss song with weight and drama, Cahlon and Herrera’s collaboration is one you won’t want to miss.

B+

Following Diana, dir. Kamila Andini, 40 min. – Indonesia


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