Serene Hunter (France/United States, 13 minutes, directed by Jason Bushman, anamorphic widescreen) revolves around handsome Frenchman Luc (Eric Debets), a heartbreaker who prefers not to date as he makes his way through meaningless hookups--before he moves in with one of them. But the memory of an American man who visits Paris every summer (director Jason Bushman) lingers in his mind, and when Jon visits again, it threatens to destroy the already troubled relationship Luc has with Sebastian (Jonathan Stringat). The ending may be a happy or sad one depending on your outlook. This is a well-filmed piece and Debets really shines as the sultry player who just might be open to love after all, but Bushman isn't quite as solid at acting as he is at directing. It will keep your attention, especially if some shots of sex don't scare you. In French (with subtitles) and English.
Solace (United States, 14 minutes, directed by Michaline Babich, non-anamorphic widescreen) is one of the strongest entries here. Handsome young Hugo (Joey Tuccio) is chatting online and decides to make a late-night trip to the Hills house of an older rich man (Richard Courtney). But it's clear from the start that the host is up to something, and there's an uneasiness throughout the film that will keep you nervous--and guessing. While the ending may feel familiar, it is performed with such honesty by the leads that it still packs a punch.
Scarred (Great Britain, 10 minutes, directed by Damien Rey, anamorphic widescreen) centers on the plight of Rafi (Chris Anderson), whose scar gives him heavy insecurity as he looks for love--although his face looks pretty okay to me, making it hard to believe the character is really that crippled by such a tame-looking scar that has onlookers gawking. He gets set up on a blind date with architect Joe (David Durham), and the action takes a tense turn as their relationship progresses--and we get spooky flashbacks to a fateful night. This is another well-made short that kept my interest, although the payoff was obvious.
Signage (United States, 12 minutes, directed by Rick Hammerly, non-anamorphic widescreen) has Lex (director Rick Hammerly)--a 40-ish single man still wanting to meet Mr. Right--heading to a bar with pal Gabriel (Jeffrey Johnson). While there, Lex meets young deaf man Jonathan (Jason Wittig) hanging out with his shirtless deaf friends (no shirt, free drink!). The two strike an interest in each other, but Lex's insecurities and prejudices from Jonathan's friends rise to the surface. This is a well-intentioned piece that hits some themes of interest (the deaf/non-deaf relationship is a challenging one for some), and has a few moments with genuine feeling. But the overacting by most involved is a distraction. This has subtitles for the signed dialogue.
Mr_Right_22 (Germany, 12 minutes, directed by Reza Rameri, anamorphic widescreen) is a German film in English. Nervous Adam (Philipp Denzel) waits in a gay café for his first-ever internet date. His narration reveals a world full of worries, and as his thoughts race his mind starts to play tricks on him. An observant waiter (Luc Feit) notices Adam's plight, and tries to comfort the young man. This provides a nice comedic break from all the seriousness on this collection, although doesn't go as far and freaky with the idea as it could have--and more overacting doesn't help.
41 Seconds (Germany, 4 minutes, directed by Tobias Martin & Rodney Sewell, anamorphic widescreen) is easily the weakest entry here. An angry, annoying man makes a phone call to a friend, and the two talk themselves into an obvious conclusion. This one is a very short stunt piece, and comes across like a bad cell phone commercial more than anything else. How it required two directors, I'll never know.
Shahram & Abbas (The Netherlands, 35 minutes, directed by Remy van Heugten, anamorphic widescreen) is the main reason to see this collection. This long short is a meaningful, memorable work about two Iranian men seeing asylum in The Netherlands. When older Abbas (Nader Farman) burns his passport at the airport, Shahram (Hossein Mardani) notices and comes up with a plan that he thinks will gain them both safety: pretend to be a gay couple. Abbas, a journalist, is initially skeptical, but decides to try it. The nervous plight of the two men as they await a final decision--complicated by two friendly people also hoping for asylum--is beautifully written and acted. It achieves a very delicate balance of drama and humor that isn't forced, amazingly finding ways to make you smile while you still fear for the lives of these people.