Catherine Bray rounds up some of the most interesting shorts from the 70th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Before Love

Before Love

If the shorts I saw at Edinburgh this year had any sort of unifying theme, it might have been the projection of humanity into non-human spaces.

An experimental German short, Anome, from Lena Nissen, opens with a shot of a cat, staring impassively, the way cats do. It is used in a similar way to the cat in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, a feature film which opens with a gorgeous, well-fed pet cat staring emotionlessly as its owner (Isabelle Huppert) is raped on the floor of the apartment she and the cat both inhabit. In Anome, voiceover accompanying the image of the unblinking cat, asks:  “What do you think? Are you the evil? Or am I?”

Humans can’t keep themselves from constantly projecting human concepts onto cats, other animals and even inanimate objects – it’s one of those few traits that characterizes us as human. In Anushka Naanayakkar’s moodily affecting animated EIFF short, A Love Story, we find ourselves adrift in a world of textured wool, but the emotional tapestry into which we’re drawn is as resonant as the same narrative would be when played out by human actors. It’s a simple tale: two somewhat abstract woollen faces interact, become close and are threatened by an outside force, perhaps a parasite or simply evil itself. It’s a narrative we infer (or project) from non-human clues: the rich color palette, the eerie music, the reactions of the two faces.

Batrachian’s Ballad, from Leonor Teles, flips this dynamic on its head: instead of alien imagery made human through its presentation, the imagery is largely human and non-narrative – saturated archive footage of faces, gatherings, dancing and so on.

In counterpoint, a narrator relays an animal fable of a frog, shunned by its contemporaries before blowing poison all over them in an act of self-destruction. Among other things, it’s a reminder of the way that sometimes humans can only bear to understand their own behaviour through parables extracted from the animal kingdom.

It reminded me of the cockerel and finch sequences in six hour Miguel Gomes’ masterpiece Arabian Nights (though if you’re in a hurry, Teles’ short might serve you better at under twenty minutes).

Speaking of masterpieces, for me the crown jewel in the shorts programme was Russian animation entry Before Love, which illuminated and interrogated the human behaviours of infidelity, love, jealousy and murder in a murky, animalistic fashion in which an urban landscape (fleshed out vividly with on-point sound design) pulses like a jungle full of suppressed impulses.

A mordant feeling that civilization hangs by a thread pervaded the piece, fulfilling its promise in stormy, beautifully-lit violence as the piece neared its climax. Props to director Igor Kovalyov.

The EIFF runs 15th – 26th June 2016

 

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