The Worldwide Short Film Festival got underway this past Tuesday in Toronto and continues until Sunday, June 6th. Click here to visit the fest's official website.
I sincerely doubt that Norwegian writer-director Sara Eliasson thought she'd be labelled uninspired or derivative when she came up with the concept of a post-apocalyptic world where children rule and language is both dying and a MacGuffin, yet the dystopia of Still Birds (live-action; 13 mins.; **/****) is too redolent of Bad Boy Bubby to ignore, while the ragamuffin with the angelic singing voice is such an indelible part of The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover that seeing another one here feels like copyright infringement. (The constant mewling on the soundtrack, meanwhile, prompted somebody in the next room to ask if I was watching Eraserhead.) It's a shame, because Eliasson is capable of delivering the odd arresting image all her own, the best of them--that of a dying queen draped in a robe of stuffed animals--incidentally the only one in the film to exploit the cast's native innocence for something other than grotesque shock value. Speaking of shock value, Denmark's Clean Carousel (animated; d. Andreas Bødker; 2 mins.; ***/****) violates a very specific taboo with an impishness I can only describe as Von Trier-ian. Ditto a determinedly primitive aesthetic that's rather effective as a psychic projection of the main character, an obsessive caretaker of a merry-go-round whose solitariness and emotional seesawing between euphoria and horror are paralleled in the spartan, similarly binary-minded Flash animation.
From medium (stop-motion) to aesthetic (sickly) to concept (grim fairytale), Spain's The Twin Girls of Sunset Street (Les Bessons del Carrer de Ponent) (animated; ds. Marc Riba & Anna Solanas; 12 mins.; *½/****) is an uncanny Brothers Quay pastiche. (All that's missing is a soundtrack by Tool.) The eponymous villainesses are decrepit old sisters who steal children, strip them of gender by shaving their heads, and use their body parts in the preparation of various elixirs that are popular with what I presume is the local apothecary, who looks, for reasons unclear, like Chaplin's Tramp gone to seed. (I think they're supposed to be cannibals as well.) In the end, the film may be entirely too ersatz for its own good: I'm not a big Quay fan, and found it nailed the oppressive dourness of their work without transcending it; and yet, I can easily see devotees rejecting it for getting as close as it does to the Quays' style without being the real deal--like a forgery. An unlikely palate cleanser, Israel's To Kill a Bumblebee (live-action; ds. Sharon Maymon & Tal Granit; 7 mins.; **½/****) opens with the more alpha dog of two hunters thoughtlessly killing a bumblebee, then shows the pair quickly become equally desensitized to taking human lives after accidentally killing "something Asian" and gunning down the witness to that, and each subsequent, murder. The fact that we ourselves are disturbed by the first couple of deaths and laughing uproariously by the time the body count is approaching the teens doesn't necessarily prove anything, but it's food for thought about the hollowing toll of violence. Still, as cut and dry as it sounds, this was the first time watching this batch of shorts where I felt like I was missing out on a deeper cultural context for the film. I'd love to read an Israeli take on it, if only to have its peculiarly specific hostility towards Thais illuminated for me.
But it's arguably more palatable than The Prince of Milk (live-action; d. Eisuke Naitou; 15 mins.; */****), a student film reminiscent of amateurish Japanese gross-outs like Living Hell, if not half as endearing. The elliptical plot finds a possibly-retarded teenage boy killing himself after some giggly schoolgirls catch him jerking off and nickname him "The Prince of Milk" based on his long, ropey ejaculations. Shades of The Grudge, this manifests a vengeful, possibly-retarded spirit who goes around dry-humping the female student body and stabbing them repeatedly, all the while regurgitating milk onto their faces and into their mouths. Ten years later, the "Milk Prince" appears to be in a psych ward, where a schoolgirl rams an umbrella deep up his ass then opens it to protect herself from the arterial spray. Sorry for having given away the ending just now, but how often do you get to type something like that? I do like that it was shot in Academy ratio, or at least transferred that way to video, complete with frayed matte edges that bring super8 incongruously to mind.