MIFF 68½ – MIFF Shorts Retrospective: Connections (presented by University of Melbourne)

Bino (2011)

Written, directed & edited by Billie Pleffer (Deadlock)

Odd little film about a boy who spends his days shirtless sitting in a trolley in the middle of a Geelong highway. A trucker living next door is spied at night dancing with his huge dog, filmed as if it were a grand romantic evening out. The boy shares longing looks with the dog across the fence during the day, before eventually making a connection with another local boy. Dialogue-free, strangely touching.

Pinion (2010)

Written, directed, edited & produced by Asuka Sylvie (Lake)

A boy is taken to the country for an operation to fix an unspecified medical condition involving two growths from his shoulder blades. Studded with the trappings of Australian Gothic – large isolated country house (Barwon Park Mansion), a mysterious fire in the backyard at night heralding the absence of another patient, glimpses of barely-marked graves as the boy flees into the wilderness… and a chance encounter at a pool revealing the truth of his condition. I guessed where it was going pretty quickly, but enjoyed it most for the visual imagery outdoors.

Silica (2017)

Directed, edited & produced by Pia Borg (Demonic)

An unexpectedly hypnotic experimental documentary set around a mine in Coober Pedy. Consisting mostly of static wide shots of the mine and its surroundings, humans are largely absent from the few shots of the mining operation in action, creating a sense that the lumbering vehicles and machinery are another form of life. The director provides third person narration, describing what is purportedly a location scouting shoot in preparation for an adapation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. The tonal electronic soundscape, replete with eerie atmospheres and oscillations, accentuates the effect of an alien environment, verging on the mystical as the camera begins to delve into the depths of the opals themselves, glistening majestically against a black backdrop before absorbing the entire screen. There’s an element of Werner Herzog’s fictionalised documentaries here, which is emphasised by the final section dwelling on the difference between real and manufactured opals, as an unconvincing CGI reconstruction of the surroundings is contrasted with the actual location, and props abandoned by previous film productions inspire a constructed history of events that never occurred.

The Stranger (2010)

Written, directed & produced by Rodd Rathjen (Buoyancy)

What looks at first like a portrait of an entitled prick becomes a look at contrasting types of self-absorption. The main character starts the film driving through a street’s worth of wheelybins left out for collection, steals a suit from a shop, nabs a bottle of wine from an outdoor dining table and crashes a party. His one attempt to join a conversation is crude, but the conversation reveals the narcissistic self-obsession of the more socially able party guests, his willingness to dance like an idiot to Moby when nobody else is dancing is almost endearing. When he chooses to answer a phone call that nobody else can hear, his desperation for connection comes into focus as he masquerades as the caller’s son, learns of the resident’s neglected grandmother and leaves the party to visit her in hospital (with some flowers stolen from a bin). Not the journey I expected at the beginning.

Thanks for the Ride (2012)

Written, directed & edited by Tenika Smith (Delete History)

A disaffected hearse driver who lives in his car and is in danger of losing his job agrees to drop a funeral attendee at a beach on the way to his next job in return for petrol. Messy personal catharsis and male bonding through theft and surfing.

Under the Sun (2015)

Written, directed, photographed, edited & produced by Qiu Yang (She Runs)

A boy takes an old woman to hospital. Her family accuses him of tripping her and demands money. This central scenario is used to illustrate various dysfunctional aspects of the two families as a microcosm of extreme societal disconnectedness in modern China. The significant events at the beginning and end of the film take place entirely off camera. The story is told largely through extended takes using static framing, with the occasional snail-paced tracking shot. The people speaking are shot from behind and/or at extreme distance, rarely looking at each other and sometimes separated visually by the architecture. It’s an excellent example of the extreme craftsmanship which can go into an absence of flashy technique – the opening scene must have required exquisite timing for all of the moving parts to line up at exactly the right moment. Even the credits scroll past at the end at a glacial pace, which seems to be a deliberate choice in line with the pacing of the rest of the film. Not exactly something I’d watch for fun, but I have to applaud the director’s finely honed control of technique.

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