By Natalie Gadbois, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 4, 2013
Short films can confuse as often as they transcend. They have the difficult task of taking snapshots of the human experience and turning them into artistic pieces, while still making something that is enjoyable and relatable. In the best of Sundance Shorts, 10 short films explored aspects of family life, love and sacrifice — all within very different settings and contexts.
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In a world increasingly at odds with itself, three films, “Robots of Brixton,” “Fishing Without Nets” and “Kthimi” (“The Return”), addressed themes of violence and survival to gutting effects. In “Robots,” animated robots wander the streets of a decrepit, heavily industrialized city. They join a revolt in the streets — as the robot police force attacks them, the film flashes to real-time images of other violent protests in Syria and England. Though the visuals, at times, overpower the message, the film illustrates the senselessness of violence in a world where we don’t necessarily control our own actions.
“Kthimi,” set in war-torn Kosovo, looks at violence in a different way, delicately and poignantly following a husband and wife the night of his return from a four-year sentence in a Serbian prison. They have a tender and relatable relationship, which makes the jarring brutalities all the more heartbreaking. In 21 short minutes, director Blerta Zeqiri deftly portrays a family changed, but not ruined, from pain and cruelty. It’s possibly the shortest film to ever make an audience both laugh and cry with shared anguish.
In a one-two punch, the Somalian short “Fishing Without Nets” followed “Kthimi” with its own tale of sacrifice and dignity on the pirate-controlled coast of Somalia. Abdi, a young father, barely makes a living fishing with nets, and the film follows his identity crisis as he decides between joining the frighteningly inexperienced and violent pirates, or living without money or medicine for his baby daughter. Filmed in an actual Somalian village with a shaky, handheld camera, “Fishing,” though simple, humanizes a business seen only before through the lens of CNN.
While both “Kthimi” and “Fishing” received a prolonged ovation from the audience, other shorts didn’t pan out so well. “Svamp” (“Fungus”), chronicles a Swedish woman as she sits in her dumpy apartment, listening to public radio and complaining about the venereal disease she suspects her ex-boyfriend gave her — it’s bizarre and lifeless.
Similarly, “Meaning of Robots” focuses on a disheveled Santa figure who makes fully anatomical robots in his “Hoarder’s”-like basement. Though the character’s graphic description of the various sexual positions of his robots draws laughs from the crowd, the film leaves no lingering thought or theme.
Both “Song of the Spindle” and “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” are animated music videos, discussing the origin of human creativity. “Don’t Hug Me” begins almost as a segment from a Nick Jr. promotional video, and slowly morphs into a creepy, overblown view of what encouraging creativity really does.
“Song,” on the other hand, joyously illustrates the importance of music by comparing whales to humans: The only thing we have in common is musical appreciation.
The three final films offer looks at ordinary, modern life. Perhaps the most prescient of all these films for college students is “The Arm,” a funny, exaggerated look at the way text messages have changed how we view relationships. Chance is a shy boy whose life is changed when he dates a girl through texting. The film elicits many laughs, but its message is eerily on point.
“Bear” is a seemingly mundane film until the last few seconds knock you breathless. It opens on a young couple as they’re getting out of bed in the morning; him lazy and lethargic, her angry and frenetic. She leaves for a bike ride, and he jumps into action, racing on back roads to set up a surprise birthday picnic along her bike route.