MIFF 68½ – International Shorts (presented by City of Melbourne)

Ali’s Circle [Le Cercle d’Ali] (2020)

Written & directed by Antoine Beauvois-Boetti (Ex-voto)

Although it appears at first that the focus of this film will be a game of buzkashi (which involves brutal jostling amongst horse-riders over a dead goat before one of them manages to grasp the carcass and race for goal), there is a sudden switch from Afghanistan to France, where a migrant worker works with Ali to prepare for his upcoming resettlement hearing. This section dominates the film, showing the casual dismissive attitude some people have to the struggles of migrants and the bonding that Ali forms with his fellow migrants through soccer. As he enters his hearing, we switch to an extended flashback building to the sudden intrusion of gunshots, before switching to Ali alone in a darkened cubicle. Neither of the narrative strands is fully resolved, but there is a poignant suggestion of the loss of his mother. The lack of resolution effectively conveys the precarious uncertainty underlying the migrant experience.

Da Yie [aka Good Night] (2020)

Directed & produced by Anthony Nti (Boi)

Matilda is an adventurous soccer-loving girl living in the slums of Ghana. Her friend Prince is more reserved but is clearly used to being dragged away from his responsibilities to have fun with her. After a game of soccer, she convinces him to accompany her for a rider in a car with a stranger who has promised them food, leading (thankfully) to a day of fun activities before ending abruptly in a narrow brush with the Ghanaian underworld. The two child leads are natural performers and it’s almost impossible not to be charmed by Matilda. The film switches pace and tone effortlessly, making strategic use of handheld camera and cutting together some strongly kinetic chase scenes through rapid editing and imaginative use of camera angles. The director makes a brief appearance as an unwelcome car-window-washer.

Darling (2019)

Written, directed & edited by Saim Sadiq (Nice Talking to You)

Transgender Pakistani Alina Darling is a talented dancer looking for her first role on a Lahore stage. The stage manager is reluctant, and despite a strong audition (depicted with a hallucinatory tinge as a fully realized, colour-saturated, bombastic Lollywood dance routine) will only agree to take her on in the role of a male backing dancer. In striking contrast seen at the end of the film, the theatre’s star attraction has little to recommend her beyond her ability to thrust her ample chest, with her ungainly movements at front of stage barely qualifying as dancing. Although Alina’s boyfriend is greatly supportive of her initial audition and not afraid to flaunt his relationship in public, he has difficulty accepting her decision to take a “male” role as a backing dancer and her appearance in masculine dress leaves him visibly uncomfortable. Their silent journey home on public transport leaves the future of their relationship unresolved.

Instructions to Let Go [Instrucciones Para Soltar] (2019)

Written, directed, photographed, edited & produced by Gustavo Gamero

A poignant story of lost holiday romance. One year later to the day, a closeted woman revisits the hotel where she found happiness with another woman. Their shared conversation plays over scenes in which the despondent woman retraces the locations of their brief connection, following the course of their relationship. Fear of parental discovery led her to suggest they meet again in a year rather than exchange contact details, and we are with her as she experiences the consequences of her choice.

Nimic (2019)

Written & directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)

A weird story of alienation and displacement. Matt Dillon, on the way home from a cello rehearsal, asks a woman on the train (Daphne Patakia) for the time. She repeats his words back to him, then begins to follow him home. Although he makes it inside in time to lock the door behind him, she somehow has a key as well, having also acquired along the way a matching flower bouquet. She continues to mimic him, and his family are oddly unable to tell them apart. We next see her in his place at the concert performance which, despite her blatant inability to play her instrument, is a rousing success. Both characters are left in unsettlingly ominous positions at the conclusion. I’ve been meaning to delve into Lanthimos’ filmography – this short film left me puzzled but intrigued.

Pillars (2020)

Written, directed & produced by Haley Elizabeth Anderson

Coming of age story about a young African American girl on the cusp of puberty as she experiences small but personally revelatory events which will form who she becomes. Although I struggled to connect with this story, each formative moment is marked with a semi-hallucinatory shift in filming technique and sound which I found very effective, culminating in a vision of a pillar of fire inspired by her mother’s imposed religious upbringing.

Roqaia (2019)

Written & directed by Diana Saqeb Jamal (If There Is Light)

A powerful look at the ways in which victims of tragedy are exploited. The young female survivor of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan becomes little more than a tool for her family, the leader of her community, documentary makers and journalists. Pushed and pulled, dressed and manoeuvred for effect, her autonomy is lost and her needs are neglected. Lip service recognition of her pain is delivered without looking at her and even the dressings of her unhealed wound are removed against medical recommendation in order to better display her victimhood. Her narrative erasure as a feeling human being separate from the event is literalised as she drifts away to gaze over the city, viewed from behind in recognition that we’ve had no opportunity to learn who she really is.

Still Working (2019)

Written & directed by Julietta Korbel

A long-abandoned factory is about to be decommissioned for demolition, and the sole remaining caretaker feels his purpose is about to vanish. Although the slow pace and lack of incident convey his feelings of emptiness, this left me with little to latch onto. A few seconds of blue-lit pipes; a surprising sequence immediately after the power is switched off, in which a succession of old factory footage conveys the sensation of the factory’s life flashing before its eyes as it dies; and the sudden crash of Benjamin Bucher’s score as the credits appear: these were the only moments of interest for me.

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