by Jesse Hawlish []

Online Exclusive / Posted January 23, 2011    More Exclusives

[Joshua Cooper in "Son Of None"]


Shorts Block 2

Does anyone else have trouble seeing the screen in the Treasure Mountain Inn’s smaller screening room? I only mention it because two of the four films in this block have subtitles – requiring you to be in view of the very bottom of the screen throughout.  I happen to be 6’4” so if
I have trouble it must be very difficult for many others.  Check out the bullet points at the bottom of this post for some pro tips on how to sit comfortably in a packed TMI screening room.

Son Of None
Dir: Todd Looby

Director Todd Looby shot "Son Of None" while doing social work and shooting a feature-length doc in Liberia.  This unembellished work of fiction is presented in a semi-doc style and follows the routine of a runt-of-the-litter orphan in a Liberian mission.  The pleasure in this film comes from experiencing the cultural and societal aspects of the film’s setting.  It’s a day in the life of a Liberian orphan, wrapped around an unpretentious and humbly effective narrative.  The fiction and the fact within this film meld for a very believable bit of drama.

Raymond & Lina
Dir: Mark Pagán

"Raymond & Lina" follows Raymond, an old man whom circumstances have made the soon-to-be caretaker of seven-year-old Lina.  While Raymond frets about the details of providing for a young girl, we’re sent with him through the streets of his inner city world.  Two aspects of this film impressed me most: use of color and use of dialog.  "Raymond & Lina" is a vibrantly colorful film without being the least bit gaudy or candy-coated.  This makes for a world that is pleasant to look upon and easily believable.  Dialog is sparse and its absence in key scenes allows acting and careful direction to say what needs saying.  Another unpretentious look at quiet people and honest struggles.

Pampeliška (dandelion)
Dir: Laurel Parmet

The first three films in this block clearly share common themes.  I suppose the dreaded spectre of comparison can shoulder some of the blame, but "Pampeliška" felt like the least successful of the three.  It’s the story of an abused child and her friend who ditch school one morning to play in a dandelion field.  "Pampeliška", like the two films before it, attempts an unpretentious look at some pointedly normal people.  The film aims to balance pathos and empathy against its characters own strengths and personalities.  The two able young leads are perfectly cast and the soft white lighting and daydream cinematography make for a cohesive whole.  It is only within the plot that I felt "Pampeliška" lost some originality and effect.  The father/daughter abusive relationship isn’t just a cliché, it’s treated like a cliché within the film.  All we see of the father is the expected symbols of the alcoholic parent trope: a hand holding a beer bottle from the corner in a lazy boy; a raised fist and a slammed door.  The children’s performances made the abuse seem more real, but the abuse scenes themselves were not helping.

The Strange Thing About The Johnsons
Dir: Ari Aster

Oh man, what a riot.  After an hour of unassuming little narratives, Shorts Block 2 ends with a bang and a ‘
what in the sam hell is this?!’ I’m going to attempt to not spoil what the strange thing about the Johnsons actually is – suffice it to say that ‘strange’ is a massive euphemism.  Another ‘long short’ (29 minutes), "The Strange Thing..." deserves every minute of its runtime.  I’ve seen a lot of black comedies in my day (Fargo black, not Tyler Perry black, just to be clear), and I find that whenever a film attempts to push the envelope and be the darkest comedy possible, one of two things happens: the film is so fucked up that it’s way, way beyond funny, or, the content devolves into exploitative gross-out humor.  "The Strange Thing..." manages to duck and weave these pitfalls and, like a good black comedy should, leaves you laughing hysterically at things you didn’t know you could stomach, let alone find funny.  It’s only the first day of the festival, but this film is a contender for my personal best in show.  It also happens to be the most well lighted, beautifully photographed, and (probably) most expensive short at Slamdance this year.  Every aspect of this production is absolutely professional, which in itself is half the enjoyment as you sit there wondering how Ari Aster managed to pay for such a gaudy, beautiful depiction of so depraved a concept.  Bravo, everyone involved.


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