The 23rd annual Manhattan Short Festival launches nine film shorts at the M.V. Film Center on Thursday, Oct. 1, continuing through Oct. 8. Viewers will be issued cards to vote on their favorite film and actor, and the results will be announced on Nov. 1. Running for such a short duration, these films must develop a coherent story line and use imaginative cinematic techniques. Reviews of the nine follow.
First up from Australia comes “Safe Space,” a bizarre film that may be hard to follow. In it, three men, two of whom are police sergeants, interview a witness thought to complain about another officer. The problem is that he never gets to speak. Instead the short uses loud squeaks, starting with a chair sliding up to the interview table by one of the sergeants. A light dragged across the table shines into the interviewee’s face, followed by a noisy microphone. The ending surprises.
Finland is the source of the next delightful short, “The Stick.” Aava, a little girl, longs for a dog, which her father refuses to give her. Instead he gets a stick and tells her to take it out for a walk three times a day for two weeks, and then he will get her a dog. As Aava follows the instructions, viewers learn a bit about her and the results of her determination in this charming film.
Next viewers will watch “Exam” from Iran, in which a teenager’s father tells her to deliver a packet of cocaine on the same day she takes an exam. When teachers show up in the classroom for inspections, she panics and ends up swallowing the drug. Without identification of this drug, viewers may find it a little hard to follow what’s happening.
“Hey, Gray,” from Russia, narrates the interaction in the afterlife between a man and his dog that can now talk. Viewers learn why the man had gotten rid of Grey (yes, the dog’s name is spelled differently in the title). He then reminisces about what made the dog lovable. With its white background signifying the afterlife, this film is probably the most cinematically innovative. Yet the story doesn’t always follow a logical sequence, particularly at the end.
Israel brings “White Eye” to viewers, although the title seems unclear. It describes how a man named Yunes tries to retrieve his stolen bike. What follows is a series of mishaps, one after another, that make this short interesting, although the ending doesn’t really make sense, nor do the prostitutes soliciting in the background.
“Sticker,” the film from North Macedonia, involves another set of unfortunate bureaucratic mishaps. When Dejan tries to renew his driver’s license, he is told the office has run out of renewal stickers. Not to worry: Officials will understand — but that’s not the case. With disastrous results, the police try to arrest Dejan and the stuffed pony he’s bringing to his daughter.
From the U.S., “Two Little Boys” describes what happens when Josh, as a little boy, falls in love with another boy. The film cuts back and forth between scenes captured on a cell phone camera of the boy as a child and those with Josh as a teenager being viciously confronted and beaten by another teenager. This intense story may disturb viewers, particularly with its ending.
The one animated finalist,“Maestro,” comes from France. In it, a bluebird sings in an operatic voice as part of a chorus of animals, including turtles, frogs, and porcupines, all conducted by a squirrel. Although the animation is quite effective, this film is far too short and lacking in plot to match the other finalists.
Finally comes “The Present,” from Palestine, a particularly effective story because of its underlying political implications about the conflict between Palestine and Israel. Yusef, a Palestinian, heads across the border into Israel with his daughter Yasmine to buy an anniversary present for his wife. They are cross-examined by checkpoint guards but allowed to continue after Yusef is temporarily caged. They finish their shopping, finally acquiring a new refrigerator as the anniversary present. When they return, the refrigerator doesn’t fit through the exit, and the guards refuse to let him pass through another opening.
As is evident from the reviews, “The Stick,” “Two Little Boys” and “The Present” are this reviewer’s picks. The audience, however, will vote collectively on their favorite, plus the acting winner favorite. All nine of the finalists will be eligible for Oscar nominations.
For more information about the festival, visit mvfilmsociety.com.