Monday, 24 December 2012


Greg Klymkiw Selects the 10 Best Shorts of 2012

By Greg Klymkiw

Keep a Modest Head dir. Deco Dawson
Oh, Glorious surrealism! Oh, Canada! Oh, Headcheese de Cinema! Deco Dawson delivers his most mind-blowing magic to date with this delirious ode to French surrealist Jean Benoit. No longer content to volley mere scuds into cinema’s boundaries, Dawson hits all the buttons from mission control at Burpleson Air Base in Gimli, Manitoba to launch several A-bombs and a few H-bombs (for good measure) at the sturdy bastions of convention, thus fulfilling the true glory, madness and poetic potential of the greatest art form of all.

Bydlo dir. Patrick Bouchard
In Patrick Bouchard’s astounding masterpiece of animation, the Earth pukes up its viscera and creates life in a coagulated enslaved cow that breaks free of its shackles to engage in an orgiastic battle with those who would seek to oppress all beasts of burden that will, in turn, eventually envelope all into a brand new mush that will return to whence it came – only to repeat the eternal cycle of birth, struggle, death and rebirth.

The Captured Bird dir. Jovanka Vuckovic
This high profile short,the directorial debut of “Rue Morgue” magazine’s former kick-butt editor Jovanka Vuckovic, features magnificent special effects from ace animatronics effects designer/supervisor Paul Jones (Silent Hill, INVASION [AKA Top of the Food Chain], Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Afterlife and Retribution) and brilliant cinematography by Karim Hussein (Subconscious Cruelty, Hobo With A Shotgun and Antiviral), Vuckovic delivers a delicious bonbon du cinema in spades. This grotesque taste-treat wherein a little girl's chalk drawing opens a door into a world of horrifying creatures suggests we can look forward to more chilling work from the clearly talented Vuckovic ("Rue Morgue's" loss, but in an odd way, their gain, since they'll have plenty of output from their former editor to actually write about over the next few decades.)

Children of the Dark (2012) dir. Scott Belyea
WOW! This is a deeply moving post-apocalyptic thriller with superb production value, gorgeous photography and the most impressive mise-en-scene I've encountered in a genre short in some time. Programmed at Toronto After Dark to precede the feature film Citadel, I somehow repressed the idea I was watching a short film and actually thought I was seeing Ciaran Foy's film. When Children of the Dark drew to its haunting, breathtaking close I was gobsmacked. I was so into the emotional layers of this movie - it's genuinely more mature than many genre shorts (and features for that matter) - that I was mildly disappointed it had to end. Exploring a world gone awry through the eyes of children can so easily fall into cliche. Belyea's film doesn't at all. It's mixture of that which is horrifying, sad and deeply truthful. It even suggests we might eventually see a feature from this filmmaker that is imbued with the qualities of Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, Rene Clement's Forbidden Games or Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants. A tall order, but this short is THAT terrific. Whether in wartime or a dystopian near-future, the role of children is one that requires taste, delicacy and an unerring eye for human behaviour. If children are our hope amidst a world without any shred of it, then their stories must retain humanism without sliding into soap opera. In fact, their desire for hope and connection, as exemplified in Belyea's work, does that astounding double duty of being as profoundly moving as it is deeply, disturbingly dark. By the way, though disappointed it was over when it was, I must stress that the short has a perfect ending. It's certainly not the filmmaker's fault that his movie was so good I forgot where I was while watching it.

Durga dir. Paramita Nath
This haunting elegy works successfully as documentary, narrative, biography, visual tapestry and poetry – all of which exist on the filmmaker’s palette as parallel strands that bleed into one another and create an alternately delicate and wrenching examination of the contradictory elements of Goddess worship and acts of violence against women in India. This is cinema to incite change, broker awareness and perhaps, through its exquisite handling of the medium itself, inspire enough love, understanding and healing to someday, somehow, yield equality – for the sake of all humanity.

Frost dir. Jeremy Ball
A fine Canadian short drama directed by Jeremy Ball that expertly tells a haunting, mysterious tale against the backdrop of Canada's northern aboriginal peoples. This story of a young woman confronting a terrifying spiritual presence linked to her ancestry is blessed with a subtle apocalyptic subtext as well as narrative elements dealing with both quest and familial acceptance. It's super creepy AND it's actually ABOUT something - both of which go a long way to remove the ever-so faint whiff of "calling card" that wafts gently from it.

Hangnail dir. Cavan Campbell
Shot completely in one take, this exquisitely written, acted and directed kitchen sink domestic drama examines a great divide between a couple in their bathroom. He's an immature video-game-and-porn-obsessed mall employee. She's a "dancer" in a "gentleman's club". He's taking a dump. She's taking a shower. Both of them are smoking cigarettes. The sniping is vicious, the pain is palpable. Love, however, finds itself in the strangest of places and in the most unusual circumstances. It's rare to find this level of maturity and dramatic resonance in short films these days when the emphasis in this medium is usually on one-note jokes and empty "calling card" endeavours. Hangnail takes us into the territory of despair among the disenfranchised. Though these characters live on the fringe and are often the types whose existence we'd prefer to repress, this evocative slice of their life is more universal than most will care to admit. Out of anguish can come incredible tenderness and compassion. This is a powerful work. It creates levels of complexity within a simple framework and I have to admit the film has continued to haunt me since first seeing it. I am especially eager to see more films from this clearly gifted filmmaker. He's the real thing.

Long Branch dir. Dane Clark, Linsey Stewart
She wants a one-night stand. He's into it - bigtime. Her place is not an option. Luckily, his is. The problem, as it turns out, is that he lives two hours away via public transit. Subway. Bus. Bike. All in the frigid, snowy climes of a Canadian winter. She wants simple, fun, no-strings-attached sex. Two hours, however, leaves many opportunities for conversation. The last thing she wants is to get to know him. He's too nice. Like Willard's journey into the heart of darkness neither is quite sure what will be waiting for them in deepest, darkest suburbia. Hopefully, it won't be Col. Kurtz. Long Branch is a bright, breezy and thoroughly delightful romantic comedy. The dialogue is crisp, gorgeously performed by the two attractive leads, shot with clear, simple and direct compositions to let the magic and movement work within the frame so that every cut counts as a truly resonant dramatic beat. Though the soundtrack is peppered with far too many whiny, upbeat indie-styled songs for this curmudgeon's liking, most normal people - especially those who are not curmudgeons - will love it as much as everything else in the picture that truly deserves - uh, love.

Malody dir. Phillip Barker
A young woman, sicker than those who dare eat the food at the all-night diner she’s perched in, catches an eerie reflection of herself as a child, inspiring a topsy-turvy cataclysm, hermetically sealed within a huge wheel rolling through a movie studio in Phillip Barker’s astounding mind-fuck that proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the greatest manifestations of worlds in collision are etched upon the rivulets of an artist’s cerebellum that’s subsequently fed through cinema’s sausage tube of joy to produce mounds of minced delights encased in rapture.

Onion Skin dir. Joseph Procopio
Gorgeously photographed, well written tale of a young man who has a major crush on a beautiful young lady who is new to his high school. Instead of utilizing the contemporary communication techniques of text messaging and cel phones, he takes the time to craft a series of hand-written love letters. In our age of technologically convenient approaches to getting a message across, the young lady is initially flummoxed by this "odd" approach. Infused with heartfelt sentiment and romance, Procopio demonstrates a natural gift for creating images that are as beautiful as they are dramatically resonant. There isn't a single performance in the film that rings any less than true. All this said, there is a gorgeously acted and directed scene in the middle of the film that, from a writing standpoint provides a too convenient impetus for the young lady to discover and accept the approach of this wildly romantic suitor. It's a minor quibble, but given how terrific the film is, it's one of those elements that sticks out prominently. In time, however, I have no doubt Procopio will discover any number of narrative shorthands that will allow him to craft many more fine films that avoid the sorts of pitfalls that are ascribed in a knee-jerk fashion to young filmmakers, but are, in fact, quite prominent in any number of mainstream works made by people with far more experience and who should ultimately know better.

Wintergreen (Paparmane) dir Joelle Desjardins Paquette
An exquisite ode to romantic comedy – Montreal style, of course, A lonely couple – he’s a parking lot attendant, she’s a birthday party clown – live out the dreariest of winters in La Belle Province, only to find common ground and happily discover that cats do indeed have nine lives. Replete with deadpan humour and a sweetness always tempered with pickling salts and peppercorn, we’re treated to magnificent facsimiles of Buster Keaton and Paulette Goddard, as if directed by a Paul Cox who’d been dropped on his head at birth upon the floor of an East End Montreal hospital instead of his Holland homeland and ended up infusing his filmmaking spirit into a clearly gifted Canadian filmmaker.