Over the weekend I caught five short films at the Brooklyn Film Festival. One called Good Grief played before the feature-length documentary Furever (review of that later in the week); the other four (Love Letter, The Phantom Pain, Scattered, A Week) played as part of a block of longer shorts that were between 14 minutes to 27 minutes each.
In one of those odd coincidences, they all happened to be about grief and loss in various forms, and the films tackled these subjects in different ways.
[For the next two weeks, we will be covering the 2013 Brooklyn Film Festival, which runs from May 31st to June 9th. Check back with us for reviews of features, documentaries, and shorts playing at the fest. For more information and a full schedule, visit brooklynfilmfestival.org.]
Director: Fiona Dalwood
The short film that immediately came to mind while watching Good Grief was Nick Park’s Creature Comforts. The two films are basically animated documentaries or animated testimonies. Here Fiona Dalwood takes interviews with people who’ve suffered major losses or life changes and gives those voices to a French terrier, a spider, a grasshopper, a carrot, and a cabbage. Dalwood brings out the joy and the hurt in the audio, which is probably most notable in the French terrier segments — the dog looks always on the verge of tears from its large eyes to its quivering jowls. The brother and sister duo of the carrot and cabbage is just plain fun. It’s adorable and rather heartfelt, and I liked how some of the materials used for the animated figures are a little wiry, revealing the method of their articulation.
Director: Lindsey Martin
In Love Letter, a young girl deals with isolation and the divorce or separation of her parents. She engages in listless, lonely afternoon playtime that involves an old love letter and a talking worm. The worm is occasionally animated though mostly it’s a work of semi-creepy puppetry. The ideas and some of the imagery in Lindsey Martin’s short are promising, like the stark line-drawing version of the little girl’s room, or the use of fantasy as a coping mechanism and an outgrowth of isolation. Yet I was hoping for a bit more. Something about the short didn’t really grab me, and while I could get into Love Letter thematically, it didn’t really hook me emotionally.
The Phantom Pain (El dolor fantasma)
Director: José Pablo Escamilla González Aragón
The Phantom Pain opens with amputees finding ways to cope with the loss of a limb, which happens through acts of simulation and substitution. This operates as the short’s central metaphor about the loss of a loved one. A woman (Cynthia Aspra) returns home following the death of her brother, and as she goes through his belongings, she tries to find release. It’s a quiet short, and I think a lot of the silence works since this is about sadness and absence, and how nothing will really replace what’s been lost. The film was made as a response to the death of a friend, and director José Pablo Escamilla González Aragón noted that the actor they cast to play the deceased brother looked a lot like the friend who’d passed away. It’s the weird way that metaphors in art sometimes apply to real life.
Director: Lindsay Lindenbaum
In this accomplished short documentary, director Lindsay Lindenbaum tries to piece together the life of her estranged and recently deceased father from photographs and home videos. What she finds in the photos and tapes paints a much more idyllic portrait of her father than the man he actually was. These happy memories her father keeps are tinged with a kind of heartbreaking nostalgia — it’s a reminder of an idea of happiness because the real thing wasn’t anything like that. There’s both pain and mystery in Scattered, and a good deal of sympathy as well. What’s interesting is how a more complete picture of a person can be rendered through a combination of his own acts of documentation (the photos, the video) and the documentary testimony of relatives and loved ones.
Director: Ken Yoshioka
A Week is one of those short films that works visually since the compositions are well-considered. They’re a bit like Joseph Cornell boxes, in a way, and little details and movements within the static shots have a weird life to them. But the film as a whole, which is about a man coping with some unexplained death of a loved one, left me cold. A Week feels more like a stray jumble of ideas rather than anything with coherent drive. The dialogue is opaque, mannered, even pretentious, though I couldn’t be sure to what end. I was never able to delineate the deeper meaning of loss beyond a sense of imbalance, though maybe the stilted, awkward nature of the film may be a reflection of this.
Love Letter, The Phantom Pain, Scattered, and A Week screens Tuesday, June 4. For tickets and more information, click here.
Good Grief screens with Furever on Saturday, June 8. For tickets and more information, click here.