Pierrot

To escape from the cruel reality one can find many ways, but is it the right way? How can one determine that? What if we think that we are moving forwards to salvation from our inner voice that always brings us down, instead we are creating one more imaginary cruel reality that is even worse than the original one? Main character (Idan) chooses acting as an escape, as “other life”. He is locked in his own state of mind, and won’t open even to his mother. On the stage he encounters a problem in acting his part. It was an act of impossible love. To want somebody so much but instead all he can do is be a “ghost” with feelings. Here is where you wonder is it because he never felt something like that in his real life, and therefore he is unable to perform. Then he saw a man (Igor) that is cleaning the stage in theater after everyone left. He was acting similar scene that he failed. So passionate, full of affection, he was intrigued and watched the men’s “performance”. When Igor saw him, he was a bit ashamed and continued cleaning. Next day he asked Igor to do again what he did last night, but Igor knew he is struggling with his part, and made him do it. Idan found help where he never thought he could.

Even when you don’t speak to your mother, she can see your state of mind and feelings. She saw that acting is not helping him, and that it is only making his state worse. In the past she forbid him to go to theater, and when he did not obey, she denied giving him the promised money. By that act, she was convinced that he will stop acting. His mothers actions led him to more terrible action. Next day he stole money from the theater, and everybody thought it was Igor and because of that, he got fired. This is the moment he realizes the damage he has done and how bad it actually feels. The moment he found out that Igor was fired, the emotions stroke his face, emotions similar to those that would make his acting part perfect.

In the end, he finds out that when he saw Igor acting, his feelings were actually real, and they were forwards Idans mother. And everything ends in his own house, where he interrupted Igor and his mother who had almost kissed.

After the film ends, everybody is left wondering. Was everything happening inside Idans head? Was everything just his imagination, did he used real life persons and made a perfect play for himself? Is he suffering from a mental disease and literally never left his room? Is Igor Idans father ?

Again, this film could be understood in many ways. That is what makes this film wonderful. Acting, idea and the final realization are great. All that is left is for the audience, to understand the film in their own way.

Servo

In Olivia Minhyul Bae’s Servo, an adorable–if clumsy and moody–robot makes friends with an overworked office worker after the man buys it as a personal assistant for his home. At first, the two don’t get along; the man even vaguely wonders aloud on the phone if he should return it. However, the robot learns to be more productive and the two become friends, playing video games and eating dinner together. When the company insists on mandatory updates, however, the robot’s owner becomes distressed and tries to refuse them.

The real success here is Bae’s animation, which is seamless, and Junghwan Sul, who plays the gruff office worker. With its giant eyes and expressive pupils, Servo the robot is able to give a convincingly anthropomorphic performance. It appears chagrined when it drops a dish, joyful while gaming, and empathetic when the man is sad. Servo’s fractious movements, the way it flails its body or shifts its head, produce a kind of charming ugliness that makes it far more human. The film also includes some charming moments between robot and human, including a sweet moment in which the robot makes a birthday meal for his owner.

The movie also speaks to the profound loneliness of the office worker automation. Except for a short phone conversation with a customer service representative, the human protagonist never interacts with any other human. Instead, his only vessel for emotional expression is this robot, which is perhaps not coincidentally also his servant. Furthermore, the man’s enjoyment of the robot seems clearly linked to its behavior, as he beats it when it fails (a very odd note in the film that just doesn’t work). The main character’s inability to emotionally connect with this object only when it is well behaved makes him seem emotionally childlike as well and makes his loneliness even more disturbing. Whether intentional or not, the film makes it seem that the flaw isn’t in the company that wants to upgrade but in the protagonist. Instead of worrying about the robot’s upgrade, perhaps the good-looking, wealthy office worker should simply get out more? It’s unclear if the film is trying to make a larger comment about contemporary intimacy or if the protagonist is merely a misanthrope, a slippage that may leave the audience unsure if this is a comedy or a tragedy.

Icky (2017)

One of the most wonderful things about animation is its ability to make metaphors physical. In the Bettie Boop short “Minnie the Moocher,” for example, Bettie’s father is giving her a lecture because she’s not eating her dinner. As she tiredly gazes on him, his head transforms into a phonograph, and the scratchy, static sound that comes out is incomprehensible. Before her eyes, he has turned into a literal broken record. Of course, her mom then changes the record to something more festive and begins to tap her foot to the music. Animations play with reality to make the implicit visible; part of the joy is making those connections between traditionally metaphorical language and the images we see.

Icky is similar to the Fleischer brothers’ classic short, not only because heads change shape but also because it rests on creating meaning through actualizing metaphors. In the short film, people have regular human bodies but their heads are literal puzzles (in this case Rubik’s Cubes). A child is born with her puzzle incomplete. While all the other heads have tiles that match on each side, this child’s head puzzle is a mess—none of the colored tiles or sides is “solved.” In fact, when the child’s mother attempts to right the sides, they keep on reverting to their unsolved state. This renders the child an outsider, isolated from her fellow puzzleheads. She even goes to doctors and therapists to attempt to treat her unsolved nature. While waiting for a bus in the rain, however, she looks down at a puddle to see various colors dripping into the drain. She looks up to find another person whose head is also unsolved—it seems as the man had painted normalcy over it.

Perhaps a metaphor for LGBTQ identity developmental disability or mental illness, the film speaks to the challenges of being a visible outsider. Its lack of dialogue and strong visuals create a simple yet universal theme—that of wanting to know if they are okay, even if they move through the world differently than others. Although it doesn’t exactly move on to new ground thematically, director Parastoo Cardgar’s elegant drawings and simple message give it a universal charisma that makes it a pleasure to watch.

Olhos Invisíveis (2016)

Can an otherwise healthy married survive a catastrophe, or are the circumstances that rule our lives more important than what we are made of? In Gustavo Sani’s Olhos Invisíveis (Invisible Eyes) asks its audience to question the stability of our own character and those of our closest intimates by showing the aftereffects of calamity. The film follows a married couple, André and Sophia, after a horrible car accident has disfigured her and rendered him blind. The two are unable to connect and disgusted with each other. Sophia is depressed and often unable to get out of bed, and when she does, she seems to take pleasure in torturing her blind husband. She throws extra salt in his food right in front of his face and lets his pet bird escape. Because he caused the accident, André appears to take this abuse as a kind of penance for his failure to protect his wife from harm. André is performing a different kind of torture on Sophia though, and the film raises the question of who is actually failing to reconcile themselves with the tragedy.

In Olhos Invisíveis, the dialogue is well written and subtle; the characters manage to seethe hatred and distress convincingly. When Sophia over salts his food, she uses it an excuse to insult his mother and question his manhood. He refusal to engage with her, which seems apologetic and beleaguered, is also a kind of torture in itself, a repudiation of her anger and pain. The film’s milieu underscores these themes of power and pain. Its tendency toward chiaroscuro lighting paints a metaphor of dark anger and reasoned light.

While there are some challenges with the filmmaking (in particular there are moments in which the cinematography and editing aren’t seamless), the film’s final images work very well and are in fact some of the past visuals of the film. The clear references to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Rear Window speak to a tradition of manipulative cinematic relationships. Couples, it seems, are only able to barely keep the monsters at bay and be able to love each other harmoniously; with the slightest whiff of crisis, the house collapses.

Out of the Game (2017)

Any medium–whether literature, film, television or videogames—can be read through the lens of “discrete, interlocking units” of meaning, cultural video game critic Ian Bogost notes in his book Unit Operations. What this means, in other words, is that we can interpret the sounds, images, and movements of video games like we do shots in films and that they can tell us about our culture and ourselves. Xin Jiang’s Out of the Game takes this idea one step further. Live-action film and video games are intercut with each other as the film follows the life of a young game designer Ilya Zarembesky. We see the designer hang out in his apartment, pick out clothes, and awkwardly reconnect with his design partner, a young woman that he used to date and is still in love with. Jiang claims the film is a documentary. If so, it echoes the irony of sophisticated documentaries like Exit Through the Gift Shop, or, at the very least, Catfish. Ilya is so flat–so utterly unaware of himself–that he is almost a video game character himself.

Out of the Game begins with Ilya’s voice-over describing how “effort is always rewarded” as the film shows a series of two-dimensional games. Ilya claims that one only must go through a series of steps, multiple times if necessary, to advance to the next year. The game designer, however, appears stuck in status. He plays games, watches TV, eats chips from his bed, and fiddles around on his computer. Slowly, a thread emerges: he loves his design partner and she’s amazing. They are going to meet up in Barcelona for a convention, and at first Out of the Game looks like it may be a cute re(meet) story of geek love. However, through Ilya’s story, the truth emerges; the two have dated, and she’s not going to marry someone else. His love for her becomes increasingly unnerving as the story progresses. When we finally see them together, collecting a prize for their tech in Barcelona, she seems awkward and uncomfortable. Her smile is a grimace. At the end of the film, Ilya goes through a box of mementos of her, sadly claiming that love is what it is.

The film’s brilliance lies in the absolute lack of depth. Ilya’s life appears absolutely two-dimensional. His white walls, Ikea furniture, and sterile apartment are almost devoid of personality. Moreover, we need no other friends, intimates, or outside activities. Ilya instead spends his time parsing the meaning of screen shot his colleague took and trying on banal t-shirts. Even his mementos of his love are flat: ticket stubs and waste paper. We see him trying to create an image of depth by filming his introduction for the Barcelona competition over and over, but he just says the same introductory phrases. Out of the Game works because it threads flat videogames seamlessly into contemporary life, and in doing so may show how the algorithms and images of video games speak to contemporary millennial life.

Mirror (2017)

Mirror is surprisingly bold and sophisticated for a 17-year old’s second short film, in that it makes a lot of sophisticated artistic decisions rarely seen from such a young filmmaker. Despite her inexperience, Sara Eustáquio manages to create a clear emotional experience in a non-narrative (or perhaps barely narrative) film. The film merely shows a young woman, played by Jaimie Marchuk, who appears to be having a breakdown in her bathroom. She laughs, she cries, she gets into the showing, she sees her double, she has a bottle of pills. It may be a mental breakdown, a suicide attempt, or an overdose.

The film’s elegance, however, lies not in its plot or theme but its styles and technique, which show a kind of confidence that even the most tested filmmakers can lack. Mirror lets the girl’s breakdown be messy, disruptive, and fraught. Its use of the jumpcut, for example, is visible without being overplayed and ostentatious. Moreover, the flash to the double is instant and very natural, and in this way is in fact rather scary. And the film uses a stark and smart soundtrack, mixing diegetic sound with some slight but terrifying sound effects. In other words, Eustáquio knows how to make images work without making them too symmetrical, or obviously stagey, or heavy-handed.

While her thematics may lack the maturity of her filmmaking practice (“don’t do drugs, kids!”), this young filmmaker is nevertheless someone to watch in the future. Mirror displays an almost uncanny knowledge of what makes images work well. In other words, it is a complete film instead of a compendium of contemporary styles and techniques.

501 Days (2017)

501 Days is a charmingly ambitious short film that follows James (Laurence Patrick) and Ellen (Hannah O’Leary), a married couple trying to become the first people to orbit Mars. However, when they lose contact with Earth and the International Space Station 170 days into their journey, the two must figure out how to finish their mission alone. The film’s ambition lies in its low budget aesthetic mixed with sharp digital effects: at £ 8000, director Thomas Hockey manages to create well-conceived space odyssey, in part because the protagonists never leave the space capsule. Instead, the short creates an intimate claustrophobia cockpit from which this happy couple turned space pioneers have to make life and death decisions.

The film jumps between the “present”—the endless intimate night of the shuttle—, and the months leading up to the mission, in which we see how James and Ellen planned their dream of being the first to orbit Mars. By establishing their seemingly long-time, intimate connection, the film gives us space to care about what may be the last two humans around. It’s both a story of the future of humanity as well as the love, friendship, camaraderie, and quest for knowledge that make us human.

The cockpit—the setting for the majority of the film—was actually built in Laurence Patrick’s spare bedroom, and the décor is more sparse than technical. Although there are the requisite switches, knobs, and buttons, the washed out 70s color palette and tight, blurry shots create a dreamy interior in which the rest of the worlds may not matter as much. The spare cockpit is marked by only a few kitschy objects: an old lamp, a maneki-neko (or a waving Japanese cat figurine) lodged between the two consoles, and a baseball cap. But the low budget interior is a wonderful contrast to the astronauts’ views of Mars out the window, and the movie’s judicious use of special effects underscore the dreamscape that is life in space.

501 Days does have a couple of elements that feel a bit like cheating, however. It raises a few mysteries that it doesn’t solve, which leaves the narrative a little too unfocused. The film’s concentration on milieu is lovely and leaves the audience both nostalgic and hopeful. While it doesn’t tell us what’s going on (or really give us speak to consider the protagonists’ choices), it nonetheless captures some of the beauty, awe, and quietude of the boundless dark that would be the constant companion of human space travel.

Empty (2017)

Guiliano Saade’s short film Empty is almost a one-act play; it takes place in one setting, in almost unedited time, with only four characters. In the story, a drunken, broke guy named Chico won’t leave the bar operated by the owner, Mr. Nelson, who only wants to go home to sleep. After enough shots of liquor to down a rhino, Chico leaves, but then he immediately returns. He can’t go home; he claims that there’s nothing out there past the bar. Mr. Nelson is incredulous and assumes Chico just want to finish off the bottle. They fight, and Mr. Nelson injured, perhaps mortally. Chico continues to hide out, even as a woman seeks help and there seems to be a shootout down the street. Empty never lets us leave the bar, so we can’t actually know what’s outside.

The film’s most interesting structural element is the way it keeps to the interior of the bar. Because we are limited to one narrow room, our perspective of the situation becomes increasingly paranoid and muddled. With the exception of one gruesome death, most of the action takes place outside. We can hear but not see what’s going on. It leaves us unsure: Is there still an outside? Who’s being shot? Is it mass chaos? Linked as we are to Chico’s point of view, we never know for sure. The story makes it seem like that emptiness is just an absence of light from a burnt-out streetlamp, but maybe he’s right and the world no longer exists. The eerie, dim fluorescent lights of the bar only serve to emphasize Chico’s paranoia. The entire world of the film looks like it’s out to get him.

Stories that are so essentially framed in one time and one place usually work by expanding characters and making them dynamic. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with Empty and is, in fact, its most problematic element. We aren’t able to really care about Chico because we know nothing about him; in this way, his arc never really becomes interesting. Less like a story and more like a series of irregular events, Chico’s tale makes it hard to connect with him, even though we share his physical point of view.

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