Short films can provide a medium for bold and experimental work, but for the most part they have settled into a formula: setup, a touch of humor, a helping of pathos, and an ironic twist at the end. Many of the 10 finalists in the annual “Manhattan Short Film Festival” comfortably follow that pattern.
Australian director Timothy Wilde’s “#30,” for example, involves an actress auditioning for a production of “Hamlet.” Silly girl, she’s prepared the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy thinking Hamlet is a girl! She interprets the scene as a strip tease, a torch song, and other inappropriate ways, and what starts out as an extended dumb blonde joke takes an unlikely turn at the end.
In other films, the joke in Finnish director Selma Vilhunen’s “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” is that the character who utters the title rhetorical question is a klutz. French director Alexandra Naoum’s “No Comment” offers a glib reversal of national and gender stereotypes. In the category of guilty consciences, English director Seb Edwards’s “Friday” confronts the torment of a bereft teenager, and American Kat Candler’s “Black Metal” takes a harsh look at a heavy metal musician who denies that his music caused a fan to go berserk. Also from the United States, Ken Urban’s “I Am a Great Big Ball of Sadness” reveals the not-so-quiet desperation underlying cocktail party chitchat.
But other entries break out of such pat routines. Though British director Mark Nunnely’s “Kizmet Diner” offers no surprises, the performances are winning. American Jacob Sillman’s handsomely produced “Pale of Settlement” offers a true tale of anti-Semitic brutality in 19th-century Russia. From the Emerald Isle, Tony Donoghue’s delightful “Irish Folk Furniture” has the title chairs and cupboards skip about with stop-action animation as their owners tell their tales. But if I were giving out the festival’s top prize, I’d pick French filmmaker Bastien Dubois’s “Faces From Places,” with its exacting, pastel animation. A series of encounters with oddball characters in offbeat corners of the world, “Faces” knows wit is the soul of brevity.