On The Short Side

in 35th Montreal World Film Festival

by Marie Claude Mirandette

The selection of short films in competition at the 35th MFF (2011) showed some remarkable work which overshadowed some of the movies they were presented with. This was the case with three animated films co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), whose expertise in this field has been acknowledged for quite a long time. It’s a domain which remains, to this day, one of the very last bastions of activity of the NFB, which is only a shadow of its former self.              

First, Romance, a short by Swiss filmmaker Georges Schwizgebel (Canada-Switzerland), investigates the subjectivity of one’s memory and mental invention through a crisscrossing of the story of an encounter. A man, a woman, sitting face to face; they stare outside through a window, not truly looking at one another. The spirit of the man is slowly transcending to a fantasized world, an alternate reality, guided by his feelings for the stranger whose space and time he shares momentarily. For a split moment, this fantasy translates into the possibility of escaping his current state of seclusion. To the rhythm of a Rachmaninov sonata, his imagination travels an unknown path, sketched in pastels and acrylics drawn on the surface of his imagination. Somewhere between dream state and reality, the limits seem more and more deceptive; they disintegrate under the influence of this illusion which has no end.          

The journey then takes another trajectory, following the imagination of the woman, for a different but strangely similar fantasy, in a whirlwind of colors at the very edge of abstraction. This short is a very attractive interlude in which film art embodies the labyrinth of the human imagination. Should the movie not meet expectations, it certainly shows the path to a magic escape through one’s mind and imagination.            

In Paul Driessen’s Oedipus (Canada-Netherlands), the naïve drawing of the artist’s style is carried by the colorful voice of the narrator telling his surprising story. Oedipus does not understand why his love life is in misery; hoping for a better understanding of the situation he joins group therapy. Going back in time to retrace the threads of his life story, he assesses his disappointments in love. The tone is humoristic rather than dramatic in this introspective film, and what Oedipus will soon discover about himself and his wife will be rather shocking, no matter what the title may be. This funny vignette is by one of the artists to whom we owe the refreshing pop aesthetics of The Beatle’s Yellow Submarine (1968). Guaranteed laughs.            

The prize for the most inspired and genuinely artistic movie goes without doubt to Muybridge’s Strings by Koji Yamamura (Canada-Japan) in which the director evokes with creativity, strength and poetry the work of Edward Muybridge, the pioneer of chronophotography. This animation is a true masterpiece, Yamamura’s elegant drawing carried by the lyrical outburst of its soundtrack somehow makes tangible the complex course of time and its procession of movements, which fascinated Muybridge so much. The inextricable march of time is confronted here by an uncontrollable urge to slow it down, to try to stop it, for a brief moment, in the mindless hope of retaining life itself. Like the links of life that weave us to our loved ones, this impressionnist film breathes in the fragile stolen moments that escapes us ceaselessly.  For its artistic qualities as well as his humanism, this new opus by the director of Mt. Head (Atama Yama, 2002) and Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor and Other Fantastic Films (2007) will remain for a long time one of the most vivid memories of a first participation to a FIPRESCI jury.  

Edited by Steven Yates