The Sundance 2021 Live-Action Shorts – Program 4

You can read my thoughts on Program 1 here, Program 2 here, and Program 3 here.

LIKE THE ONES I USED TO KNOW (Annie St-Pierre, Canada)

A melancholy Christmas story that manages to remain fresh and emotional even despite how many melancholy Christmas stories I’ve gone through. Annie St-Pierre clearly has a hand on tone and modulation, however obvious some choices of camera movement and framing may be, and the result is a movie that is efficiently able to establish the mindsets of its duotagonists (both of whom – Steve Laplante & Lilou Roy-Lanouette – are the stand out of a perfect ensemble cast), the relations of everybody in this short, and let that drive the emotional drama until a brilliant two-hand ending. Obviously Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss is my favorite film of all the programs, but this one puts up an excellent fight for my second favorite short of the festival (mostly trying to battle Raspberry).

YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND (Trish Harnetiaux, USA)

Feels like it may be trying a bit hard to have its absurdity cake while pleading for us to laugh with it, but I do think it’s trying in all the right ways: Anthony Arkin and Jacob Ware’s performances, the neat costumes, and the selection of wide shots and close-ups that specifically punctuate what the hell we are trying to figure out this time. I can’t possibly say it wasn’t put well enough together to get the job done, I just have trouble being as amused as it seems a story of this kind wants you to be.

DOUBLESPEAK (Hazel McKibbin, USA)

I mean, there’s no going around the fact that given how much workplace sexual harassment in all industries still exists after the #metoo and #timesup movements, Doublespeak is a very relevant short film addressing a long urgent issue. I just honestly have trouble seeing it address that issue in a compelling way. It doesn’t help its case that this short played at Sundance so soon after The Assistant came around and provided an overwhelming experience similar to the one Doublespeak provided. I expect that’s not fair to compare. In any case, the lighting, acting, and dialogue felt like a gritty primetime reboot of a corporate harassment reporting video and maybe that’s the point to add subversion to the obvious truth it’s heading towards about Human Resources’ complete resilience to help survivors of sexual misconduct in any manner. I just wish embraced the bite that could have given or provided more insight on the matter.

THE UNSEEN RIVER (Pham Ngoc Lan, Laos/Vietnam)

The last of these gorgeous short films that would be so perfect if they were shorter. Probably the one that frustrates me the most given how perfect everything seemed to be going up until… it still kept going. And that is a bit unfair to say, since I understand the mosaic schema that it is trying to adopt and while it takes its sweet time tying the various stories togerther… it does eventually come together. But I also finding the swapping of the stories interrupts the otherwise meditative rhythm of the whole thing, despite Lan and his crew doing a phenomenal job to help me sink into the environments of this short in its sedate visuals and the brilliantly layered sound mix for the river and the people on it. So perhaps I’m a bit bitter that it didn’t end up my favorite thing ever as I initially thought it was gonna be, but what’s left is still an outstanding experience.

I ran from it and was still in it (Darol Olu Kae, USA)

We got three avant-garde shorts on the experience of being a Black person in America by the end of the Live-Action shorts run (albeit all three of them on different areas of that experience) and while I might still prefer Black Bodies to Darol Olu Kae’s I ran from it and was still in it, I think this is the one that most takes advantage of that unorthodox approach to provide something touching truly overwhelming and touching. A lot of that comes from the earnestness and honesty that Kae uses to determine his associative editing rhythm and juxtapositions from a combination of archive footage and personal videos and truly some of that earnestness leads to the movie getting a bit too fussy but this isn’t necessarily trying to be anything other than a personal appeal for something better in the fact of what he’s bringing to the world. Kae takes exactly as much time for that appeal and I walked away very impressed by how he did it with the power of filmmaking.

THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER’S HAND (Gregory Barnes, USA)

I genuinely don’t have anything to say about this and I apologize to Gregory Barnes for that. It caught me at a time where the subject matter is a bit too close to home regarding a friend of mine, but it also just approaches things from an angle that is alien to myself as an anti-religious person (and sort of alien to my religious friend, to be sure). I am confident enough in saying that this was never going to be my sort of jam no matter when I saw it, between the sense of humor and stakes, but I feel saying anymore would be ungenerous.

THE CRIMINALS (Serhat Karaaslan, France/Romania/Turkey)

Pretty impressive how smoothly this took on the tonal shifts, but maybe that has something to do with what I was expecting when I originally read the premise. And it led me on with that expectation at first with the relaxed manner in which it introduced its protagonists and what they wanted to do without the scope of the film – I was honestly expecting a tiny teenage sex comedy about them just trying to find a place – but slowly and surely the menace of what sort of society they live in and the invasive nature of the morally self-righteous edges in. It is a bit frustrating that it reaches the peak of that tension fairly early on and I suppose some of that comes from the antagonist’s performances being such blatant villains, but the naturalism of the two teenage leads helps ground this into something very real and threatening to them. It is totally understandable why such a story won the Screenwriting Award for the shorts, even if it wouldn’t be my choice.

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