The following is a breakdown of the titles showing in the Manhattan Short Film Festival, unwinding Friday, October 5, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Each film is introduced by its respective director.
From Norway The Devil’s Ballroom tracks a lone explorer who’s attempting to be the first man to reach the North Pole. An especially wide frame captures hues of white and grey as a snowstorm blankets the objective.
From The Netherlands’ A Curious Conjunction of Coincidences traces what happens when people fall down on the job. In 2011 an underground worker in Amsterdam nods off and backs his tractor into a wall making a big hole. In WWII a German airman falls asleep and, leaning forward in his cockpit, accidentally drops a bomb that falls into the sewers of Amsterdam, never to explode. And in the year 1649, or thereabouts, workers constructing the city of Amsterdam use faulty building practices that results over the centuries in a giant gas bubble that extends (underground natch) throughout the city. All these events lead to a startling conclusion at the film’s end.
A Russia entry Where Does the Sea Flow finds lyricism in the story of a young girl and her mother. This short uses a kind of Russian magical realism that involves dreams, a forest and a teddy bear.
From the UK Two & Two starts with a slow zoom out from a blackboard in a classroom and ends with the meaning of addition dictated by force, and not by any logical connection of numbers or math.
Ireland’s Cluck starts darkly with a car pulling up to a stately mansion at night. We’re in an orphanage but the tone soon turns absurd as a feral chicken boy appears on the scene.
Peru’s Behind the Mirrors presents two motel employees, a utility man and his pregnant wife, who discover a dead body in one of the rooms. Only the man may know what actually happened since it happens that he has video cameras in select room to video couples coupling.
From France The Elaborate End of Robert Ebb (actually in English) sports a rich color palette and involves a sea monster with multiple eyes (a guy in a rubber suit) that’s just not cut out for terrorizing landlubbers.
An American entry, 92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card is set in South Dakota and starts with a naked dude passed out in a wigwam. Informed of his dad’s passing he and his brother head to the funeral in Kansas City. The wake would go smoothly save for the bickering between the brothers that escalates into fisticuffs. 92 Skybox is a comedy in the style of a Duplass Brothers movie.
Spain’s Voice Over concludes the program with pure sci-fi. An astronaut crash lands on a distant planet and must find shelter before his oxygen runs out. Great lensing and superb effects, but just as you’re settling into the story it switches to WWI and a soldier who’s just lost his legs in a landmine explosion. He has just a couple of minutes before he passes out from loss of blood to detonate a remote bomb that will save his girlfriend’s life.
The approximate running time is 130-minutes, and of course viewers are welcome to vote online at the MSFF website following the screening for their choice of the best short. My personal faves were the US and Netherlands shorts but the film from Spain is hands down the best of the lot.
— Michael Bergeron