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LIFF Coverage: Day Four - Short Film Comp. 3/We Have a Pope

Posted: 14/11/11 13:05

International Short Film Competition: Part 3
15 Summers Later (Dir. Pedro Collantes) - A ridiculously funny short about two acquaintances happening upon each other after a 15 year gap. One of them becomes insensibly angry that the other has a boyfriend despite turning him down 15 years ago saying she wasn't looking for a relationship. His anger escalates as the film continues becoming more and more comical.

Told through a single long shot the audience watches on as an outsider perspective. A position that affords perspective on this bizarre scene.

Handball (Dir. Anita Rocha da Silveira) - This confusing short is about sexual awakening, coming of age, and... handball? It's difficult to say for sure as scenes of flirting with boys are mixed with sitting in furniture shops. And the film ends in a brawl between to all-girl handball teams. It's a disturbingly violent fight and seems to have little place in the film.

The Barbican (Dir. Bartlomiej Zmuda) - Emil is on his way home to Poland, wage in hand, to pay his overdue rent and return to his girlfriend. At the station he finds he's lost his money. He sneaks onto the train and steals a man's wallet. Trapped on the train till it arrives at the station he tries to avoid the security.

This is a great little thriller, one that captures the panic resulting from getting caught committing a crime. But it begins with a questionable panel: 'Based on a true story'. The story is not so outlandish as to be unbelievable, nor so true to life as to need verification. It adds nothing to the film, and if anything is a distraction.

Checkpoint (Dir. Ruben Amar)- The story of 11 year-old Sulieman is told with no wasted time. His stakes are quickly established, he lives in the Gaza Strip having moved into town following the destruction of his village. There the boys have no school and spend their time thinking about women and how to get rich. Sulieman hears that the Palestinians will pay anyone who gets imprisoned by the Israelis. So Sulieman takes his toy gun and walks up to the Israeli checkpoint to be arrested.

The film is exciting both narratively and visually, 18 minutes is just not a long enough time to be spent in the company of this story. Evidently the director thinks so too. This isn't a short film, it's the first 20 minutes of a film that have been lopped off and served up as a short. The film ends with no foreshadowing, simply a cut to black. The setting and characters have been established but nothing is resolved (and this is not some roundabout way to suggest the lack of resolution the Gaza Strip brings to the people of Palestine and Israel). I want to see the feature that this film is so evidently meant to be.

Ghost (Dir. Dahci Ma) - A man is hiding out in a derelict apartment block after raping and killing a young girl. Our time with him is spent watching him suck chicken bones, draw ejaculate onto a cartoon penis, and even more strangely, watch the chicken bones come to life briefly as a puppet that then mimes having sex. This short suffers from a common affliction: it's compaction has made it very confusing.

Trains (Dir. Pavel G. Vesnakov) - After losing her job as a dish washer because her boss couldn't afford to pay her any more Tony goes to a loan shark to get the money she needs for bills. From there she goes to the side of a motorway to prostitute herself. Why? To get the money to buy her son a birthday cake.

The underlying message of the film is conveyed through news reports playing on radios and televisions that she passes but pays no attention to. They're reports of the growing economic crisis and the government saying that it will pass, people just need to tighten their belts. People like Tony can't afford to tighten their belt. The grim story is nothing new, but the news reports does give it a contemporary spin that lends it relevance.

We Have a Pope
Dir. Nanni Moretti, Italy/France, 2011, 102mins
Beginning just after the last Pope's death, the cardinals descend on the Vatican to elect his successor. After a number of ties a unanimous winner comes in the form of cardinal Melville - not one of those originally pipped to win. As the enormity of the appointment hits he finds himself unable to make his first papal appearance, refusing to go out on the balcony and bless the assembled audience. Instead he retires to his apartments. Until the new pope is publicly announced no one is allowed to leave the Vatican, nor can anyone make the announcement on his behalf. So the cardinals must remain. The psychologist who is brought to assess Melville must also remain. Melville however manages to escape the Vatican and spends the next few days wandering Rome to try and overcome his anxiety and depression.

As a comedy We Have a Pope is never entirely successful. There are some scenes which are well constructed, like the cardinals passing the time between votes by tapping their pens, trying to see each others votes, and generally acting like bored children in an exam, and when the vote is being totted up, all of them praying not to be voted for. But whilst amusing none are laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The occasional stabs at satire show how strong a film this could have been. Having a guard hide in the Pope's quarters occasionally ruffling the curtains to give the outside world the impression he's looking upon the benevolently whilst in his solitude is a great device to show both the figurehead role the Pope plays in the Catholic church but also the emptiness of the action behind the symbol.

A real missed opportunity is the atheist psychologist who's forced to remain in the Vatican. He begins philosophical and theological discussions with the cardinals but these rarely develop before they become distracted by a card game or a news report. They could have been a great chance for a probing look at both Christians and atheists.

Instead the rich setting is somewhat wasted through a weak narrative. It's never explained why all the cardinals vote for Melville and too little time is spent with him for us to see him as a fleshed-out character. Instead much of our time is spent with the distractions, a volley ball tournament set up by the cardinals, the news reporters trying to give 24-hour coverage of something which has no developments, or the other games the cardinals play to pass the time.

We Have a Pope is not a bad film, but it is so clearly not what it could have been that I left quite disappointed.

 

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