Movies

Movie Review

Short films, live and animated, from Sundance

A scene from “MeTube: August Sings Carmen’s ‘Habanera.’ ”
Daniel Moshel
A scene from “MeTube: August Sings Carmen’s ‘Habanera.’ ”

Though it’s only January, I might have already seen my favorite film of the year: Austrian filmmaker Daniel Moshel’s five-minute “MeTube: August Sings Carmen’s ‘Habanera,’ ” one of the live-action gems from the “2014 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour.” In it a performance of the title aria metastasizes into a dazzling, polymorphously perverse montage.

Sundance Institute
A scene from “Subconscious Password.”

Or maybe it’s Chris Landreth’s “Subconscious Password” in the “Animated Shorts” program. Here a guy called Charles struggles to remember the name of someone he meets in a bar. He descends deep into his brain, where he plays the title version of the ’60s TV game show. Charles’s superego hosts the show, and the celebrity panelists include James Joyce, Yoko Ono (“who will be performing in Charles’s amygdala!”), Dick Van Dyke, and H.P. Lovecraft’s Chthulu.

In fact, almost any of these shorts would be hard to beat. Such as Geneviève Dulude-Decelles’s live-action, fictional “The Cut,” a vignette in which a little girl trims her divorced father’s hair, revealing his loneliness and sorrow. Or Ben Berman’s droll, black-comic “I’m a Mitzvah,” which shows what can happen if you’re stranded in Mexico with a dead friend. Rose McGowan’s ’50s-set “Dawn” combines elements of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” And, despite the whimsical title and premise,
Frances Bodomo’s “Afronauts” — about Zambian exiles attempting a trip to the moon — achieves a timeless, folkloric poetry.

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On the nonfiction side, Sandhya Daisy Sundaram’s “Love. Love. Love” explores the title folly from a female point of view. Brett Weiner’s “Verbatim” dramatizes the transcription of an actual, Kafkaesque legal deposition. Most touching and inventive is Yuval Hameiri and Michal Vaknin’s “I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked,” employing everyday objects to illustrate the futility of what is lost.

A scene from “Love. Love. Love.”
Alexey Filippov
A scene from “Love. Love. Love.”
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The animation program likewise upsets conventions and subverts expectations. Mikey Please’s “Marilyn Myller” exposes artistic vanity in a funny, artful way; Marc James Roels and Emma De Swaef’s “Oh Willy. . .” is a stop-motion, fuzzy-figured allegory involving nudism, traumatic memories, and triumph of motherhood; and Kelly Sears’s “Voice on the Line” imagines an analog, Cold War version of today’s National Security Agency snooping.

The best of these films ponder the opposite of animation — death. In Julia Pott’s “Belly” two chimerical brothers and a centaur-like steed must make hard choices while inside a whale’s stomach. Bernardo Britto’s “Yearbook” demonstrates the futile solace of memory in the face of unavoidable extinction. In Stephen Irwin’s playfully Grand Guignol “The Obvious Child,” a cartoonish little girl tries to transport her dismembered parents to heaven. And in Don Hertzfeld’s astounding “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” a stick figure named Bill experiences amnesia, derangement, invasive medical treatment, a lingering death, and eternal life. By the time its 23 minutes are up, you’ll feel like you have, too.

More coverage:

- A preview of the Sundance Film Festival

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.