Everyone Dies

in 12th Transilvania International Film Festival

by Maricke Nieuwdorp

Although this year’s FIPRESCI jury had to pick a winner from the TIFF section “This is the End”, many protagonists also lost their lives in the Shadows Shorts program, which was marketed with the tagline “Evil shorts. Everyone dies.” And so they do. In very bloody ways, thanks to zombies, vampires, psychotic killers and other weird creatures.

Shadows Shorts, the short horror and fantasy competition at TIFF, was inaugurated in 2006. This year’s edition proved — once again — to be very popular; the “evil shorts” in Cluj’s Cinema Arta were completely sold out. A full house of Romanian horror and fantasy lovers — along with international visitors with a taste for good gore — enjoyed an evening-long program of twelve shorts from all over the world. Several titles were remarkable for different reasons: for instance, due to strong suspense, lots of gore, beautiful special effects, good make-up or outstanding sound design.

Here are some titles which stood out for me, starting with a well-made mix of romantic drama with the supernatural: Death of a Shadow (Dood van een schaduw), directed by Tom Van Averment, and starring internationally recognized actor Matthias Schoenaerts. Since this short was nominated for an Oscar this year, and was also programmed in several international festivals, it is presumably quite well-known and appreciated. Not surprisingly, this very well-made and profound Belgian story, about a deceased man collecting shadows of dying people in the hopes of retrieving his own life and love, won the prize of this year’s Shadows Shorts Competition. A very happy Van Averment promised to come back to TIFF in the near future with, so he hopes, his first feature.

Death of a Shadow was not the only short which stood out for me. I also really enjoyed films like the German/Danish short How to Raise the Moon by Ana Struck. It is a small piece of art and a crafty, skilled surprise film about the struggle between Sleep and Death. Appearing as a couple of antique-looking stuffed animals, Sleep and Death try to raise the moon, while fighting over a woman’s life. This wonderfully-made black-and-white short features some lovely handmade décor and a professional stop-motion technique which makes the puppets, clocks and flowing crockery come alive.

One of the funniest titles was Fist of Jesus, anoutrageous and “historical” horror comedy from Spain. The two young directors, Adrián Cardona and David Muñoz, decided to mix up a famous part of the New Testament with a zombie story, starring a pugnacious Jesus Christ as the protagonist, with Judas as his loyal and scared-to-death sidekick. Their problems arise after Jesus promises Jacob that he will bring his son back to life — changing him, unfortunately, into a bloodthirsty zombie. Within seconds, our two heroes have to run for their lives and try to save themselves by killing an ever-growing army of zombies. But how can they do that if all they have is a couple of lousy fish? Quickly, this classic story turns into a fun and bloody gore fest with outrageous special effects and sharp comic timing. The short, picked up after it had been shown at Sites (the oldest festival focused on fantastic cinema in Europe), is just a prologue for what will be an even more absurd and funny feature starring Jesus and Judas, according to Cardona and Muñoz. We certainly hope so!

The Swiss short Room 606 (Zimmer 606), by Peter Volkart, was the clincher of the program, and it did send us on our way with a smile on our faces. This highly original story centers on a 1950s travelling salesman who comes to a very old-school hotel. It is fully booked, so he checks into the spare room in the attic. This decision seems to have its pitfalls. Behind the walls of his run-down room, there is a lot of activity going on. The Swiss director of this extremely good-looking and well-designed production got his inspiration from a fantasy he had as a kid, about his radio being worked by little men inside. A seemingly simple idea, but it is elaborated in an intriguing and humorous little fantasy story, with all sorts of smart references to our daily life and our history.

Edited by Lesley Chow