There is no future for conventional cinema – at least this is what seems to be the message of last year’s short film juries at different festivals. For this issue of WOSH, we have decided to analyse and try to understand the success of four short films which won the main prizes of important festivals around the world in 2011.
Why do certain films get awarded at many festivals while others don’t? What makes the difference between success and mediocrity in the world of shorts? What makes a director an author in the festival tour? Our goal by analysing these four films is not just a simple quest to understand these works, but also we will try to give hints on what the recipe for a successful short looks like, and to offer clues to the future stars of short films.
Peter Baranowski: Addicted – Locarno, Pardino d’oro
During the 23 minutes of this film we never leave the seat of the car in which the German protagonist is travelling to Morocco to visit his estranged Italian girlfriend. Peter Baranowski presents a minimalistic story through an innovative and comparatively minimalist visual solution, which creates unbelievable tension. The restricted view from the car makes us want to see more all the time, as we miss the shots which usually show us the other parts of the space. Rauschgift (Addicted) is great because this visual style is in unison with the story, where the guy being far from his girlfriend is simply unable to understand and to see what’s going on with her and her emotions towards him. The final shot, when all we can see is the small white spot of the flashlight disappearing in the night through the windshield, is just astonishing. The short film jury in Locarno probably rewarded the fine cinematography and the consistency of the author in pursuing the chosen visual and dramatical path.
Park Chan-Wook: Night Fishing – Berlinale, Golden Bear
Established and well-known directors rarely turn up in short film competitions. Even if they are working in the short format, they are usually doing so as part of a team producing a sketch-film. Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook, however, showed up in the Berlinale competition last year with a technical innovation, a film shot with iPhone. The challenge of his project (Night Fishing) was, of course, the integration of the tool of most home videos of our time into a cinematic format. What made his technically innovative project interesting is that he did not use this new tool in a conventional way. He chose a crazy, mythical and at the same time funny narrative which was shot in a playful and very mobile visual style (which was made possible by the “camera”). The story of the death of the lonely fisherman, his meeting with a medium bearing the soul of his daughter during the night and finally, his funeral is as crazy as a Park Chan-Wook movie can get. But what made this film really intriguing was the fact that the almost 50-year-old filmmaker was able to create the most youthful film of the competition, and that he was able to forget and leave behind all the visual and narrative effects and solutions he had developed and had been using for years.
Ruben Östlund: Incident by a Bank – Tampere, Grand Prix
Ruben Östlund’s short consists of one ten-minute-long take which presents the recording of an unsuccessful bank robbery in the center of Stockholm. In Incident by a Bank, the filmmaker takes the position of an accidental observer, who – as we so often see in real life – turns on his camera when something unusual happens on the street. An interesting twist of the concept is created through the presence of two guys, who do the same as the filmmaker: they notice the suspicious figures early, and when they become aware of the situation, instead of trying to stop them or alert the police or the other passers-by, they start filming with their phones. As we watch the scene, we start to interpret this both as a social criticism of the indifference of the welfare society and as a typical Scandinavian absurd. But soon we realise that the filmmaker formulating this criticism is, ironically, doing the same. The situation and its visual formulation clearly remind us of the iconic Swedish filmmaker, Roy Andersson.
Maryna Vroda: Cross-country – Cannes. Palme d’Or
A different case is that of Ukrainan filmmaker Maryna Vroda, who presented a visually low-key short film last year. What makes Cross-country outstanding is its irregular narrative structure, which promises a new story several times, but instead of following a thread, it always moves away to a different situation. The cross-country running of a teenage class becomes a story of excommunication and gang practices, to continue as a thriller by the discovery of a murder and to finish as a lonely meditation on a lake shore. Vroda flashes the possibility of several different stories, but as the film drifts away from every one of them, with the fantastic final shot of the guy stumbling in the huge balloon on the water, it becomes as poetic as a film can get. Only in the end do we understand that instead of looking for a coherent story, we should watch this film as a poem that sketches different images, moods and conditions, but that never goes into detailed explanation.
Daring cinema – this phrase comes to mind after watching these four shorts. The courage of the authors to choose and pursue unusual and innovative visual and narrative structures seems to be the key of their success. And at the end of the day, this is just natural, because this is the only reason why short films should exist – for conventional cinema, there are plenty of feature films.
text: Zsolt Gyenge