Who Views Short Shorts 2015 TMT Weighs in on This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Short Films


La Parka
Rating: 4.5/5

I don’t know. I guess we have a choice in what we do in life — La Parka refers to a man, “The Reaper,” in English, who kills bulls at a slaughterhouse — thousands of bulls, maybe millions, I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter, “a lot” seems sufficient, “too many,” more accurate, biased. He narrates over footage of the slaughterhouse, everything dripping with gristle and blood; wet, metallic, pooling, beautiful in its grotesque way. The man narrates, “I would never kill a human, they are not animals. I only kill bulls because I have to,” but earlier, he says, “I became curious about killing bulls and immediately took a liking to it,” and earlier, still: “I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell. Hell is what I live through everyday.” He can quit, but has an addiction to doing something he, on some level, knows is wrong (“They feel just like we do, I see them crying, they have tears coming from their eyes,” he says), but also enjoys and validates, and I don’t know, I can’t blame him; there is something about the spattering on the wall from shit and innards and small parts and blood that is attractive and really wonderful and representative of something that is profound and within myself, some inborn violence. I wanted to see it.

But I don’t know. He can quit, if he sees it as wrong. He made a choice to be there. And you can fault someone for their choices, if they have them — to work one place rather than another, to kill things rather than let things live. I hate the meat industry. I feel little empathy, let alone sympathy, for the titular narrator. I guess he has a choice, but he’d have to find another job, and he has a family, other lives he’s looking out for. And, anyway, would you blame the cog or the machine, etc., etc.? I think La Parka is an achievement in objectivity. It doesn’t take sides or tell you anything you don’t already know, if you’d thought about the meat industry at all. It’s just provoking you. “Look, this is what this actually looks like. And, listen, this is the guy who kills the animals you eat.” He has a bizarre and profound awareness of himself — sad and indifferent. He knows what he is doing is hurtful — full of pain, at least — but doesn’t see the exit sign in the distance, isn’t sure if it’s there. He has a choice, but not a clear or especially good one; might as well keep on, killing.

Our Curse (Dir. Tomasz Sliwinski)
Rating: 3.5/5

This is the first time I have seen a baby, an infant, scared of its own death; that innate struggling, pushing against it-doesn’t-know-what, we-don’t-know-what, just knowing that this is not going to end well. Our Curse is about an infant born with Ondine’s Curse, a rare disease wherein the victim stops breathing when he falls asleep, and his young parents. They sit on their couch, heavy sighing of the ventilator heaving in the background, saying things like, “This is only the beginning…” and “I don’t know how we can…” But the scene in which they change out the tube that goes in their baby’s throat is the centerpiece of everything; Leo, the baby, has terror in his eyes, quaking, shaking, looking around, the parents making cooing sounds that do nothing for him, there is nothing that can be done for him, he’s not even crying, he can’t cry, he is just shaking and looking around and his mouth is open, the whole in his throat wheezing, gaping, he does not understand what is happening, he fears for his life and has no idea what life is.

There is some part of me that believes the documentary format was invented for films like Our Curse: films that tell a story that needs to be told, and it just so happens that the story is true. It would be a piece of fiction, except that these are the real people and this is really happening. But this isn’t that film. It could have been. There are a good 10 minutes of Our Curse that are genuinely frightening and sad and full of pathos and meaning, but then, it is only a half-hour long, and doesn’t take its time, creating more questions than it answers, passively wondering, “This disease exists, and, man, isn’t that a motherfucker?” I wonder if Leo will grow any older, if he will die soon or is dead now, or if he will ever have some semblance of a life, or get old enough to understand that he is cursed and so are his parents, if he will grow up to understand that he knows the true meaning of the word “unfortunate” and embodies it entirely? This documentary should have been made over the course of 10 or 20 years, but I think it only took a couple of months. It isn’t lazy, but just thoughtless, shortsighted. There are moments here I don’t think I’ll ever forget, trapped inside an unmemorable film.

Joanna (Dir. Aneta Kopacz)
Rating: 3/5

Polish director Aneta Kopacz heard of Joanna Salyga — a young mother with terminal cancer — after reading a newspaper article on her popular blog, and the subsequent film is a study of the final months of Joanna’s life with her husband and 5-year-old son. As is to be expected, the result is contemplative and poignant, a montage of domestic moments imbued with sadness and timelessness and the pain of a son’s life beginning as a mother’s life ends. This end-of-life contemplation is intertwined with scenes of domestic mundanity, encapsulated perfectly in a scene wherein Joanna types and reads out a document of life advice for her son while he casually plays with Legos on the bedroom floor. The rigid, negotiation-type feel of the conversations between Joanna and her son (“Do you ever laugh at anybody?” “I won’t comment on that subject.”) are contrasted against her casual talks with her husband on her imminent death (“I will hold an audition for your next wife on my blog. Just, Jesus, let’s find someone with no cancer.”). Like the final months of someone’s life, the film has a dreamlike quality, slipping in and out of moments of rest and reflection, humdrum conversation and sudden tearful contemplation, until it reaches its inevitable conclusion.

White Earth (Dir. J. Christian Jensen)
Rating: 3/5

A train crawls by like a caterpillar, with an unending number of linked cars trailing behind it, wrapping around a snow-white hill. A young boy speculates that the endless procession of unmarked train cars all contains one cargo: oil. J. Christian Jensen’s White Earth is a documentary short focusing on a small town of the same name in North Dakota experiencing a modern-day oil boom, with a subsequent explosion in population to match. With a sudden jump from 60 to 500 by one estimate, White Earth is the modern form of a company town — according to the film’s young narrator, workers are drawn to White Earth for the promise of oil money, only to discover their rent is almost equal to their pay. Covered in snow and filled with overstuffed RVs and trucks with decals saying things like ‘Drillin’ Deep, Pumpin’ Hard,’ the whole place has the feel of a frontier town. There’s even a truck emblazoned with the words ‘Chasing a Dream.’ Jensen’s film is mostly constructed of interviews with the kids of oil workers, many of whom have mixed feelings about the oil rigs. Stuck in the problematic idea that the oil on the one hand provides her parents with employment and on the other hand takes up virtually all of their free time, a girl at one point daydreams: “When I’m really old, I think that North Dakota will be back to normal.” The short is filled with evocative imagery, but the slightly moralistic tone that sets in detracts from what could be an even more thought-provoking study of a modern-day boomtown.


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