Five of the Best from Glasgow Short Film Festival 2015

As ever, Glasgow Short Film Festival offered up a fascinating snapshot of the most interesting and innovative short films from across the world. Here are five of the best from its International Competition

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 02 Apr 2015
Twilight (Juan Pablo Daranas Molina)

Throughout the festival, audiences were treated to some delightful words from 'Andrei Tarkovsky' in the GSFF trailer: “The tree that could not grow, the fish that could not swim, the bell that could not ring, the short film that is too long…”

There’s no doubt that when a short creeps past the 20 minute mark audiences start to get a bit twitchy. But GSFF director Matt Lloyd seems determined to give those tricky not-quite-shorts, not-quite-feature films their day in the sun, finding room for several of these medium-lengths in the International Competition. We’re glad he did, as one of the very best films we saw was the 37 minute long Twilight, from Cuban filmmaker Juan Pablo Daranas Molina. The time flew past.

It’s an unflinching yet tender story of two lost souls on the outside looking in. One is Alicia, a young woman who dreams of being an actor but works as a clown in a ramshackle circus that travels across the villages of Cuba. The other is Albelito, an adolescent boy whose dreams of breaking away from rural life is even more remote. Like the characters in Molina’s movie’s American namesake, Albelito cannot go out in the sunlight (unlike Robert Pattinson and co, it’s because he has a photoallergy – he isn’t a sparkly-skinned vampire.)

These two central performances are wonderful, but the real draw is the cinematography. It’s shot in long, static takes, using the onscreen light sources only. Given the film is set in a remote mountain village without electricity, those sources are limited. The lack of artificial light creates a haunting, otherworldly atmosphere. It draws you to the screen, as if leaning forward will help you see through the gloom. Whether it’s a golden dawn, a tremulous sunrise, an interior with faces illuminated by an oil lamp or the sickly green glow of an outdated mobile phone, you can’t take your eyes off the film.

World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt)

“That’s the thing about the present: you only appreciate it when it’s in the past.” During its breakneck 16-minute running time, Don Hertzfeldt (It's Such a Beautiful Day) manages with World of Tomorrow to do what Christopher Nolan couldn’t with the bloated Interstellar: that is, take his audience on a moving and philosophically potent tour through time and space. That Hertzfeldt’s film is also a laugh riot is a bonus. 

World of Tomorrow’s bitter-sweet journey follows a four-year-old named Emily and her adult clone from the future. The comedy comes from the juxtaposition between the two characters: Emily (or as the clone refers to her, Emily Prime) is cheerful in her toddler ignorance; the clone, like Blade Runner’s Roy Batty, has seen things that you wouldn’t believe, and as a result she’s unremittingly morose. The clone takes Emily Prime into the ‘Outernet’ to see her future, and Hertzfeldt renders its digital planes with wit, imagination and eye-popping colour. The film deservedly walked away with GSFF’s audience award.

Bath House (Niki Lindroth von Bahr)

Ever had a bad day at the office? If so, you’ll have instant sympathy for the lifeguard at the centre of Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s wry stop-motion film. Like the Swedish animator’s previous short, Tord and Tord (which you might recognise from the cover image of GSFF’s 2011 brochure), Bath House is set in a world where animals walk around upright and do everyday activities – think of its universe as a less sinister version of the rabbit world of Inland Empire or a more deadpan rendition of Fantastic Mr Fox. Von Bahr’s extended use of tableaux, too, recalls that Wes Anderson’s film, and helps to draw us into this strange little animation.

Horse (although she looks more like a deer) is the uptight lifeguard at a municipal swimming pool. She’s a bit of a fusspot; a stickler for the rules. So, when a trio of mice ne'er-do-wells sneak into the pool without paying and start mucking around she gets upset. Also in the mix are a wolf couple, who seem to be in the middle of some sort of relationship crisis. It’s a basically a farce, and it escalates in a hilarious but delightfully low-key, Scandinavian way.

The Dark, Krystle (Michael Robinson)

Michael Robinson’s video piece resurrects the great rivalry from Dynasty between Krystle (Linda Evans) and her bitchy nemesis Alexis (Joan Collins) that was the heart of the show – then it eviscerates the hollowness of its melodrama. You don’t need to be old enough to remember the 80s soap opera to appreciate The Dark, Krystle’s comic fizz, however. Through hypnotic editing, we see Krystle in various close ups of her face in turmoil as she stares at someone off-camera, and we notice that, without exception, the expression is exactly the same. Like Derek Zoolander, Evans appears to have only one ‘look’, and watching her traipse it out again and again is excruciating. All the while Alexis is taunting her on the soundtrack.

Later, Alexis is the focus, and we see a montage of her, but instead of crying, she’s drinking. Champagne, wine, brandy, scotch, cocktails: you name it, she’s knocking it back. It’s essentially a supercut of Collins’ character’s alcoholism, and the cumulative effect is as moving as it is amusing. Both characters come together on screen near the film’s finale. Sparks – and flames! – fly. A whip-smart bit of pop-culture appropriation.

Blood Below the Skin (Jennifer Reeder)

GSFF’s mini Jennifer Reeder showcase (A Million Miles Away and the ‘Forever Trilogy’ were screened) was a perfect warmup to the Mid-West filmmaker's unique cinematic world. Blood Below the Skin concerns three teenage girls groping their way through the minefield that is adolescence. They live in an ostensibly teen movie world of proms, boyfriends and popularity contests, but the rose tinted lens has been lifted, exposing the bruising realities of real life. They live in a social milieu that sees them as either a “bitchy slut” or a “cunty tease”, and the trio rally against such notions with punky abandon.

What’s so appealing about Blood Below the Skin, and Reeder’s films in general, is its honesty. These kids aren’t smart-arses – the default mode for misunderstood teens in the movie world; they don’t always have a Diablo Cody-esque wisecrack up their sleeve. Not that they don’t have any form of comeback. When a boyfriend gives his girlfriend a hard time she and her friends turn in unison to blast out the chorus of The Smiths' Bigmouth Strikes Again. Sometimes their communication is more subtle: when two girls begin to click they start chatting through telepathy, with their thoughts appearing onscreen like a comic strip. These slips of realism don’t distract from the pain and awkwardness of the scene, however: they enhance these feelings.

Reeder isn’t just interested in teen turmoil. The loneliness and disappointment of middle-age is also a concern. “I am exactly as I was when I was 14 or so, but now I have children and mortgage payments. Coming-of-age is an ongoing process,” Reeder tells Matt Lloyd in an interview in GSFF’s catalogue. For Reeder, we’re all screwed up kids, fretting about how we look and looking for love – but below the skin, we’re all the same.

(Postscript: I also loved Blood Below the Skin for a visual gag centred around a meatloaf that Chantal Akerman fans should get a kick out of.)

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Glasgow Short Film Festival 2015 ran 11-15 March