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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 5
Premiering Sunday, September 13th at 7:00pm | Scotiabank Theatre

New Eyes, dir. Hiwot Admasu Getaneh, 12 min. – France/UK
KOKOM, dir. Kevin Papatie, 5 min. – Canada
The Magnificent Life Underwater, dir. Joël Vaudreuil, 16 min. – Canada
The Society, dir. Osama Rasheed, 13 min. – Iraq/Germany
She Stoops to Conquer, dir. Zack Russell, 16 min. – Canada

The TIFF description calling Zack Russell‘s She Stoops to Conquer a “fantastical oddity” is about as spot-on a review as you can get. What else can you say about a short film depicting a struggling performance artist who applies a latex mask—transforming her into an older gentleman in hope of laughter that doesn’t come—who comes face-to-face with the alter ego in real life? The possibilities are almost nightmarish: to see yourself in parody and wonder what sort of game is happening around you. There’s a horror film beneath such a conceit and yet Russell and co-writer Kayla Lorette (who also stars) go for rom/com instead. It’s a bold move that renders the piece even stranger, but I cannot deny its appeal for the very same reason.

We’re dropped into the world with little bearing other than knowing the initial locale is filled with young girls putting on costumes to entertain the masses. But while most don fake sideburns and moustaches to dance onstage in a drag show as men, the forlorn Lorette sits at her mirror applying a full prosthetic. The performance meets with much less enthusiasm than the others so it’s unsurprising to find her even more withdrawn afterwards, smoking alone in the alley. Something about the light and music emanating from a different underground venue draws her over, still in costume. It’s there she meets Julian Richings—a perfect doppelgänger of her professional persona. Rather than be appalled or scared, however, he engages her in a conversation of movement. They become one against the music.

The whole project is eccentric like this: both characters literal mirrors of each other who embrace the coincidence and become more self-assured in their bodies than perhaps they’ve ever been before. The relationship forged is off-putting not for the age difference, but for the idea of twins arousing each other being a disturbing sight. There’s a transference of confidence and identity between them that brings us to a finale equally exploitative as it is sweetly dignifying. Awkwardness in the morning replaces the stupor of alcohol and excitement as one self is destroyed so another can rise from the ashes. Whether the interaction was real or dreamed, the end result is a newfound success of authenticity that speaks to the audience. Only when she believes her character is authentic can those watching do the same.

B-

Remaining Lives, dir. Luiza Cocora, 17 min. – Canada
El Adiós, dir. Clara Roquet, 15 min. – Spain

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of servants in this day and age. Money notwithstanding, just thinking about sitting at a dinner table and asking someone to do something you could have completed in the time it took to ask is impossible to fathom. Add the dynamic of an entitled secondary employer and the whole thing becomes even less so. Clara Roquet‘s El Adiós takes great care to show just how much the deceased matriarch of this wealthy Bolivian family meant to their maid Rosana (Jenny Ríos) and yet the woman’s daughter (Mercé Pons) remains oblivious. So intent on ensuring everything’s perfect to her tastes, Mercé can’t comprehend how a hired hand would care to do anything but what she’s told. Truth be told, Rosana was probably more of a daughter than she ever proved beyond blood.

The film’s full of presumptions on behalf of Mercé—ideas only someone out of touch with the real world could believe. To her Rosana knows nothing else so it’s assumed she’d simply carry on her work with the next generation, helping maintain her household and raising her daughter Júlia (Júlia Danés) no questions asked. It’s this certainty in Mercé’s actions and tone that make you want Rosana to smack her in the face, but this working class woman is too spiritual and mature for such behavior. Instead she simply nods in acquiesce at each turn, smiling when Mercé orders her to change her mother’s burial attire from red to white for selfish reasons. Rosana knows her late employer wanted the red and she’s going to honor that wish. This is her memorial after all, not Mercé’s coronation.

Ríos is fantastic, stoically heartfelt and caught in a world that’s doubled as her personal and public realm. She worked in the house, but was also a human being we infer her boss treated with respect and equality—enough to leave Rosana with the desire to witness her being laid to rest. Rosana’s the one who compassionately follows routine on such a grievous day, bottling up sadness to do right by the woman everyone else arrives to remember. The sense of entitlement from Pons is therefore enough to send you into a rage. While this is the environment in which she grew, she doesn’t have the right or place to blindly set this employee’s future as though property. Witnessing Rosana’s composure proves inspiring, her loyalty reaching just far enough to fulfill her duty to the deceased. No more.

B


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