The Sundance 2021 Live-Action Shorts – Program 2

You can read my thoughts on Program 1 here.

WHITE WEDDING (Melody C. Roscher, USA)

Sundance has an M.O. and that M.O. is generally not my thing and this short honestly embodies that M.O. to a T. A whole lot of heavy-handed delivery of themes, most of them crammed in, most of them honestly predictable. It’s not poorly shot or edited (in fact, the opposite) so it has that going for itself, but it also would feel right at home as Oscarbait if it was a feature film with the artless way that the cast and script posture itself for all the final beats and twists. I’ll give it that at least one of those beats lands.

LATA (Alisha Tejpal, India/USA)

There was a letterboxd review that I encountered after finishing this program that I captured exactly my attitude and I could not imagine adding a single observation to it: “Yes, I too have watched Roma“. But this is meant to be a fuller capsule review and I do believe every movie deserves elaboration on it’s responded to. It is very apparent what Tejpal is going for and she does it relatively successfully: placing Shobha Dangale’s titular housekeeper in compositions stressing her out-of-placeness or invisibility amongst the privileged folks she works for. It’s no more dysfunctional on this matter than Roma, honestly, but Roma is a full-length picture that has more to exercise the patience that Tejpal is restrained from doing. And because of that, it’s obviously there is a lot of promise in this short without a whole lot realized that isn’t already established by the halfway point.

IN THE AIR TONIGHT (Andrew Norman Wilson, USA)

Is it associative in its cutting and rhythm? Yep. Does it try to spin around that famous urban legend about the titular song? Kind of, but I don’t think it needs to to be entertaining at least. Is the dry delivery of David George’s extended monologue amusing? Sure. So what is it that holds me back from being in love with this short as somebody who is the ideal viewer for this? It is so fucking literal. Which is the most disappointing thing for something ostensibly avant-garde to be, its choice of shots and imagery to have accompany the monologue is just so obviously what would be going through someone’s head and guiding our expectations of where this short is going that it ends up not feeling as engaging as I was hoping it could be. Points for including an explicit shot of penises touching each other mid-ejaculation though, so I can’t say it isn’t out there even in its literalism.

MOUNTAIN CAT (Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir, Mongolia/UK)

Sadly one of the shorts that was starting to evaporate from my brain by the end of the festival, but what I do remember of it… I very much enjoyed. Beginning with its beautiful cinematography from Krish Makhija, which compliments very well with the shifting moods and high-altitude anxieties this picture places us into. And these shifts that for the most part Purev-Ochir and the cast all approach with naturalistic subtlety that won me over even further. The sole exception to that is the shift that defines the first and second half of the movie, very much calling attention to how the plot and conflict kind of changed to us in an abrupt and awkward way. Still even if it’s not a small gripe, it is the only gripe I truly have towards this short.

THE AFFECTED (Rikke Gregersen, Norway)

In the Q&A after this program, Gregersen brought up the fact that she was trying to avoid the sort of short that would – with this sort of premise about a deportation being interfered with in an inconvenient manner – make a political statement. And this was something that already crossed my mind while watching the short itself, but I absolutely feel it is to the short’s benefit. For one thing, the focus away from the act of protest gives us some cramped shots of everybody who is stuck in the crossover, which only amplifies the dark humor it has about people who are reacting in either blasé or aggressive ways. And it doesn’t overstay its welcome, particularly once it finds the most cynical pair of beats to end on and thereby deliver its political attitudes on Norway’s treatment of foreigners without undercutting itself.

RASPBERRY (Julian Doan, USA)

It has one beat. Just one. And if I’m being honest, it’s a beat that probably has the misfortunate of arriving so soon after Dick Johnson Is Dead had a penultimate scene similar to that beat. But it’s still supremely well-constructed in its lead up to that beat and its wind-down from that beat and in the beat itself. And by Doan’s ability to put it all together with a sense of pacing and composition stressing the empty rooms and placement of the family over the dead grandfather (and especially the awkward placements of the undertakers), it’s not just that the beat lands but that it gets to find a few variations in its emotions during the moment it pops in. I sound pretty weird when I describe but this is a short I found to have tremendous payoff personally.

UNLIVEABLE (Enock Carvalho & Matheus Farias, Brazil)

Like Yoruga from the last live-action shorts program, tremendous world-building on the part of the creators. And not just that, but tremendous character-building where we learn so much of the relationship between Luciana Souza, Sophia William, and Erlene Melo’s characters in the short time we spend with them (and that they spend with each other, given that Souza is the clear protagonist and the one we are with from beginning to end). It’s hard to pretend like its choice in tones, particularly when it comes to the ending of it all is more for the sake exercise, but I am impressed enough by its willingness to end on an ambiguous note that gambits on our desire to know more regarding its central mystery (a gambit that I find works on me) that I’m pretty happy to assume great things to come from Carvalho & Farias.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s