Monday, April 20, 2015

Worldfest-Houston 2015: Drama Shorts (Session 3)

[Poster from "Just Another Dance with My Father", Rob J. Greelea, Director]

The 48th Annual Worldfest-Houston
Drama Shorts (Session 3), Saturday, April 18, 2015

The second of two sessions I saw at Worldfest-Houston yesterday was the third "Drama Shorts" screening, which included five films from three countries. (Hmm, I just realized there's a ridiculous number of numbers in that sentence!)

Director: Brandon Chang
Screenwriter: Brandon Chang
Length: 15:54 minutes
Category: Drama
Country: USA
Film trailer

This film is about a young man named Aaron who is being bullied in school, and who is about to take drastic action -- twice -- when he is interrupted, first by a medical emergency, and then by a word of kindness. I thought this was well acted and it's certainly topical, but I don't know that it covered new ground. (SPOILERS AHEAD) I was left wondering if this is just a temporary reprieve, because as far as we know, Aaron still has the automatic weapon in his possession, and it seems likely he'll be bullied again. I think that was the right choice, as opposed to an unrealistically happy, "it's all okay now" ending.

In terms of the film itself, the only thing that threw me out of the story is that I didn't think there were nearly enough extras to make it believably look like the crowded hallways of a public school. But I understand there would be budget and/or logistical issues, and they did do a very good job with what they had.

Just Another Dance with My Father
Director: Rob J. Greenlea
Screenwriter: Diane Musselman
Length: 17:12 minutes
Category: Drama
Country: USA
Film's Facebook page

I loved this film -- it was easily my favorite of the group. A 30-something woman has a stroke that interrupts her terrific life, and we witness the frustrations and triumphs of her path back towards independence. She has a close relationship with her family, and her father tells the hospital staff that he hopes to dance with her once again at her sister's wedding.

This film did a great job portraying how people do not know how to interact with those who are ill or disabled. Katie's boyfriend tells her, almost angrily, that she has to try harder; before her stroke, there had been an interchange about a race they'd run which nicely foreshadowed that he has little patience for what he considers weakness. Similarly, Katie's co-worker comes to visit her in the hospital and does the typical talking louder/"can she understand me?" thing. Fortunately, her actual family members are much more supportive.

I was a little thrown off by some of the editing choices as the film jumped back and forth between Katie's ongoing recovery and her sister's wedding, but that's a small thing. This film was under twenty minutes long, and I was completely engrossed in Katie's life and her recovery. I took a peek at an interview with the screenwriter, who is herself a speech therapist -- so no wonder this movie was so authentic.

Last Wishes
Director: Herschel Weingrod
Screenwriter: D. Parker Widemire Jr.
Length: 28:51 minutes
Category: Drama
Country: USA
Film website

This was an odd and clever film, and I'll just put the SPOILERS warning right here because it would be hard to discuss this one without talking about the ending. Monsieur and Mrs. Baptiste are an elderly couple living quietly in their home and minding their own business. Monsieur Baptiste gardens every day, but is tormented by two thugs who sit on the garden wall between properties. They verbally taunt and threaten him, and occasionally even throw garbage at him. Mrs. Baptiste wonders if they should call the authorities, but her husband says that this is merely the price they have to pay for living so long. That, and the fact that the couple keeps saying "maybe tonight" to each other, is a little confusing to the viewer at first but it eventually all makes sense.

When Monsieur Baptiste dies, I'm assuming of a heart condition, the two thugs decide the time is right to break into the house looking for silver and jewelry. They climb through an open window, leaving their gun behind in the car because they are familiar enough with the wrong side of the law that they know breaking and entering brings far less severe penalties than armed robbery. Besides, it's just one old woman in there, right?

I'm sure you can guess from my description where this is going. It turns out the old couple are former French Resistance fighters who made their first kills before they were legal adults, and that conveniently open window was an invitation they'd been leaving for weeks for the two thugs to come in and meet them on their own turf. Mrs. Baptiste can handle these two just fine on her own. She shoots each of them non-lethally so she has the opportunity to lecture them on the true meaning of bravery, but she has no intention of letting them off the hook.

The audience clearly liked this movie, and that's not surprising because it's always satisfying to see sadistic little creeps get their comeuppance. I was glad about that too, but I felt this was at least 25% too long, especially while Mrs. Baptiste was lecturing. Her point was made very quickly, so it didn't seem like it needed to go on. The credits also went on for a long time over scenes of Mrs. Baptiste returning to the gardening routine. It was a clever film, but I just had a little trouble connecting to it emotionally. Technically, I thought it was good, with the exception of the lighting in the bedroom scene, which looked a little like sunlight pretending to be lamplight.

Pilato, Pilato...
Director: Roberto Russo
Screenwriter: Roberto Russo
Length: 10:37 minutes
Category: Drama
Country: Spain
Film trailer (Spanish)

This was a short, sad little film about a boy eagerly awaiting the birth of his baby brother. In his family, there is a tradition of tying a bow around something and asking "Pilato" to help find a missing object, so when the parents return home from the hospital after having lost the baby, the boy rushes around looking for his new brother under cushions and behind furniture. He then ties the ribbon himself on the crib bars, with his mother helping him. Part of the prayer is that they will not untie the bow until the missing thing has been found, so presumably it will stay on that crib forever.

This was touching. The little boy reminded me of a dark-haired version of Barry from Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- remember him from so long ago? And there are some lovely mixed live action/animation sequences in which the boy imagines himself on some kind of adventure. However, the film description states that "Jon resorts to magic to complete his quest and finds his brother," and I'm not sure that's the conclusion I came to -- it was difficult to tell exactly what was meant to happen in those sequences, and I think the description of the film was somewhat overwritten for effect. But it was still a beautiful piece of work.

Director: Marco Della Fonte
Screenwriter: Marco Della Fonte
Length: 15 minutes (*)
Category: Drama
Country: UK
Film website

I'm afraid this film didn't quite work for me, and although the program says it was only fifteen minutes long, I think it was actually much longer but I didn't have any way to time it. At the very least, it felt much longer, and I note that we did not get to see the sixth film that was listed for this session -- I have to wonder if it's because this one ran much longer than expected.

In any case, "Reversion" is the story of a married couple about to go on holiday. She suffers from some kind of unspecified mental illness, although OCD is at least a part of it. When the movie begins, the man is packing and the woman has just woken from a bad dream in which she killed the husband. They go on the trip, she broods and refuses to do anything, and she cruelly taunts him about his fear of heights while they are walking on a swaying footbridge over a gorge. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Later she gets drunk and almost jumps off a cliff, and at one point it appears he actually tries to throw her over. When the man returns back to the place they are staying, she pulls a gun and there's a gunshot.

Then the movie "reboots" and the opening sequences play out again, with the roles reversed almost 100% -- the man wakes from a bad dream in which she kills him (that's the only non-reversed part), and they have the exact same conversations as in the original scenes, except flipped. Here's where pacing became an issue for me: the viewer sees within seconds that this reversal has happened, and immediately gets it, but it plays out for several minutes longer than it needs to. It ends again with a gunshot, and I'm not 100% sure who shot who, but I didn't care that much because I didn't like either character. Assuming she was the mentally ill one, I feel as though I should be more compassionate, but she treated other people horribly.

At the very least, this made me think. What if your spouse develops these behaviors after you're married? You did marry for better or worse, after all, but on the other hand, if the person resists their treatment and you suffer from their verbal and psychological abuse, how long can you endure that? Mental illness is not easy for anyone involved, and I don't know what the answers are. No film about mental illness is likely to be "pleasant," so I also don't know what the best way to address such things in film would be, but I'm not sure a lot of people will be receptive to a longer-than-necessary film watching unpleasant people do unpleasant things.

Click here to see my other reviews of Worldfest-Houston short film screenings. Coming next: reviews of Sci Fi Shorts and Fantasy Shorts.

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