Love. Love. Love. asks girls about romance
I've been reviewing programs of short films for years, and I have complicated feelings about them. That's definitely true of Sundance Shorts 2014, the program screening at Sundance Madison.
In particular I have reviewed Oscar-nominated shorts, which are shown in theaters every winter before the big night. I understand the appeal of checking them out on the silver screen, and some of the Oscar shorts have been really special. But I'm often struck by how slight the films are. Only in the short categories are Oscars given to films that can seem little more sophisticated than precocious student work.
The problem is that mainstream audiences basically don't see shorts anymore, at least not in the traditional sense; they do of course see commercials and, to an extent, music videos. The days are gone when going to a movie also meant seeing newsreels, serials, B features and, yes, shorts. That means there's no longer an incentive for filmmakers to create popular star vehicles such as the Three Stooges and Little Rascals shorts, much less searing masterpieces like Chuck Jones' animated One Froggy Evening, which is in the National Film Registry along with Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
All of which is to say, Sundance's new program of eight shorts is indeed a mixed bag. I'll stick to describing the ones I like, including the excellent Israeli film I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked. In it, a man narrates as hands, in close-up, enact a story using household objects, the way a child might. The story is about a sick woman's death, and the film is wry, but suffused with grief and regret. It's pretty devastating. The American film I'm a Mitzvah, also quite good, presents a similar mix of pathos and dry wit with its story of a young man tasked with bringing home a friend's corpse from Mexico.
Some of the shorts are more slices of life than stories, including the Canadian film The Cut, about a father-daughter dynamic that abruptly changes, and Verbatim, a bit of lawyerly absurdism about a deposition gone haywire. Speaking of music videos, Austria's MeTube: August Sings Carmen "Habanera" is a performance of the famous Bizet aria that's jazzed up with animation and decadent extras. As with many latter-day shorts I've seen, there is an idea, and there are some dazzling visuals, but the film doesn't linger with me.
I'm struck by the Russian film Love. Love. Love. It's a somewhat abstract essay that combines images of everyday people with voiceovers of women and girls describing the way romance plays out in their lives. It's a format that might be tedious at feature length but works just fine as a short. Well done.