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Cinema 16: European Short Films is an intriguing collection of works by sixteen interesting directors from ten different countries. Cinema 16 has released an R2 disc by the same name; this U.S. Edition has a different lineup. The list of participants includes both established directors and relative novices. In the short subject arena, what counts is the film on the screen, not one's list of credits.
The selections vary in length from three minutes to almost half an hour, and range from ironic one-jokes to complex dramas. Short films like these tend to be screened to a select cinema audience and then set aside, a wasteful situation that this DVD definitely helps to counteract. As an added bonus, most of the films include director's commentaries, a welcome idea indeed.
The Man Without a Head Juan Diego Solanas France / 2003 / 18 min. / Color.
First up is a showy award winner. Using elaborate computer imagery, Argentine director Solanas tells the fantastic story of a headless man who prepares for a big date by dancing to a Fred Astaire song. He decides to rent a head for the occasion and runs into minor problems, reminding us of Alejandro Jodorowski's La Cravatte. The film is at its best when the actors are given more attention than the artsy animated backgrounds.
Wasp Andrea Arnold United Kingdom / 2003 / 23 min. / Color.
A riveting look at a single mother of four living in poverty. Barely in her twenties, Zoe (Nathalie Press) is so desperate for a date that she cannot resist parking her brood of tots outside a bar -- for hours, at night. An excellent film of social realities, and the winner of the 2005 Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action.
Doodlebug Christopher Nolan United Kingdom / 1997 / 3 min / B&W.
The first effort from the director of Memento and Batman Begins is a brief gag about a man in a squalid room trying to squash a pest. Typically for Nolan, the film plays with layers of reality. Any film school would call this a perfect project for attracting attention. Say, that boy's got something there.
World of Glory Roy Andersson Sweden / 1991 / 16mm / Color.
Already revered as a classic, this Swedish take on existential despair is like Ingmar Bergman on depressants. A dozen static tableaux present the miseries of an unhappy citizen in an unnamed country. A WW2-style mass murder atrocity echoes in our citizen's inability to stay sober, or sleep at night.
Je T'aime John Wayne Toby MacDonald United Kingdom / 2000 / 10 min. / B&W.
This lively excuse to celebrate The French New Wave stars Kris Marshall as an English lad who wants to live and breath the role of Jean-Paul Belmondo. Hilariously arrogant, he drags his little sister to a foreign film screening and fantasizes dead-on stylistic parodies of Godard and Truffaut -- especially a girl who 'Belmondo' imagines to be the reincarnation of Jean Seberg. Cute and affectionate.
Gasman Lynne Ramsay Scotland / 1997 / 14 min. / Color.
This short subject appears on the Criterion disc of Ramsay's Ratcatcher and is another of the director's studies of poverty and the family unit. The un-subtitled Scots accents are impenetrable; it's difficult to understand half of what's being said.
Jabberwocky Jan Svankmajer Czech Republic / 1971 / 13 min. / Color.
The famed animator Svankmajer contributes an extended exercise in creepy surrealism using his usual cast of discarded toys and found objects. This one follows the Lewis Carroll poem in Alice in Wonderland.
Fierrot Le Pou Matthieu Kassovitz France / 1990 / 8 min. / B&W.
Actor - director Kassovitz gamely provides his first short subject attempt, a quirky story of a incompetent basketball novice who stubbornly projects the attitude of a champion. A little fuzzy (and the copy here could be better), it communicates the wonder of athletic ability when the klutz's imagination takes over.
Rabbit Run Wrake United Kingdom / 2005 / 8 min. / Color.
The most original film in the set, this is an affecting animation reportedly fashioned from educational sticker images found in a junk shop. In a Nintendo nightmare, a greedy 'Dick and Jane' duo exploits an uncontrollable magic idol. The end up like the lovers in Un Chien Andalou. Truly creepy -- and difficult to explain why!
Copy Shop Virgil Widrich Austria / 2001 / 12 min. / B&W.
Another brilliant animated piece. This one plays with the notion that reality is one big sloppy photocopy. Director Widrich goes beyond turning film frames into Xerox-like images, and produces a nightmare of endless replication.
Boy and Bicycle Ridley Scott United Kingdom / 1958 / 27 min. / B&W.
Ridley Scott's film is the oldest in the pack. A boy (younger brother Tony) sets out on a bicycle adventure to (what else?) photogenic beaches and abandoned buildings. Accompanied by a running commentary that, again, is difficult to follow because of the English accent. Also available on the Paramount DVD of The Duellists.
Nocturne Lars Von Trier Denmark / 1980 / 8 min. / Color.
A previous admiration for Von Trier is a necessity to engage with this tedious (8 min. = 2 hrs.) essay of static shots and staring faces. The program notes say it's about a woman who fears the light. Impenetrable and therefore brilliant?
Before Dawn Balint Kenyers Hungary / 2005 / 13 min. / Color.
In both style and theme, this one-take tour-de-force is reminiscent of the films of Miklós Janscó. With impressive precision, we see a smuggler's truck try to unload a group of illegal immigrant refugees, only to be surrounded by police vehicles and a prowling helicopter. The camera trucks and pans across half a mile of wheat fields and the action in the frame never falters. It's all filmed at the magic hour before dawn, when retakes are impossible.
Election Night Anders Thomas Jensen Denmark / 1998 / 11 min. / Color.
A satire on racism. A well-meaning citizen (Ulrich Thomsen) struggles to reach a polling place before closing time, and goes crazy dealing with arrogant, racist cab drivers. A strange exaggeration (I hope) of street attitudes in a modern European city.
Six Shooter Martin McDonagh Ireland / 2004 / 27 min. / Color.
Another Short Film Live Action Oscar winner. McDonagh's lengthy tale is as elaborate and expensive as half the art features we see today. Brendan Gleeson's character has just come from the hospital where his wife has died. On the train ride home he meets a maddeningly insensitive young man (Rúaidhrí Conroy). The perhaps dangerous fellow completely unnerves a couple that has just lost their infant son. The film presents a society where indifference has become aggressive cruelty, yet chooses to end with visuals akin to Hot Fuzz.
The Opening Day of Close-Up Nanni Moretti Italy / 1996 / 7 min. / Color.
A sketchy shot-on-video fragment that nevertheless has a point to make. Actor-director Nanni Moretti plays the owner of a small theater promoting Abbas Kariostami's new Iranian film to an uncaring public. He makes sure his art-house clientele have sandwiches, finds a more PC arrangement for the books in the gift shop and tries to deal with customers who don't like subtitles. Moretti's box office take is being slaughtered by the publicity steamroller of Disney's The Lion King. Is it all worth it?
The DVD Cinema 16: European Short Films boasts a good selection of films. The image quality is mostly excellent but varies somewhat with the masters submitted for use. The polished The Man without a Head is unfortunately flat-letterboxed, but it still looks fine. The unexpected extra are the director's commentaries, which encourage a second look at the films that most intrigue.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Cinema 16: European Short Films rates:
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