TIFF Review: Short Cuts Canada 4

Broken Face. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Short Cuts Canada 4 brings a robust line-up of dark, powerful films to the Toronto International Film Festival. SCC4 is a strong mix of drama and documentary. These films largely combine the strange and unusual, offering fascinating bursts of originality, but the programme probably hits hardest in the lone departure from the speculative genres. Make no mistake, though: SCC4 is one of the better helpings of shorts at TIFF this year.

The programme begins with a direct speculation on the art of the afterlife in the punnily titled A Tomb with a View (Ryan J. Noth, 7 min.). This swell doc whisks viewers to Brazil where a thoughtful man named Pepe Altustut offers a tour of Memorial Necrópole Ecumênic, which is the tallest vertical tomb in the world. This smart and entertaining doc begins by looking at the practical element of the cemetery—conserving and efficiently reducing the land space the dead occupy—but then evolves into a poetic reflection on the intangible place where the dead reside, the afterlife.

The afterlife assumes a different guise in Broken Face / Sale gueule (Alain Fournier, 16 min.) when two puppets in a lighthouse navigate the waters of heaven, hell, and purgatory. This utterly original fable is dark, yet playful as the two seasoned dolls—one a disfigured sailor and the other a cantankerous lighthouse keeper—battle a ghostly presence from the water from the tight confines of the lighthouse. Broken Face plays with the audience’s fear of the unknown as the keepers bunker down on the ominously named island of En fer (Hell) and keep the afterlife at bay with the help of a severed head. The remarkable animation mixes morbid humour, fantastical fancy, and disquieting realism to make this film linger like a ghost long after the final images fade to black.

A different kind of purgatory marks the setting of What Doesn’t Kill You (Rob Grant, 12 min.), which gives the topical subject of teen bullying a Final Destination-ish spin. What Doesn’t Kill You, one of two shorts at the Festival from the Canadian Film Centre (the other being Still in SCC 5), takes a new approach to genre when two bullied teens survive a car crash and debate the fate of their severely injured friend. A strong performance from Blackbird’s Connor Jessup anchors this gripping account of the ability to control one’s fate, and the simple premise wracks up considerable tension thanks to the dark, mysterious atmosphere that situates this drama in the in-between place of fantasy and reality.
What Doesn't Kill You.
Photo courtesy of the Canadian Film Centre.

SCC 4 jumps firmly into reality with the powerful Sahar (Alexander Farah, 14 min.), which comes next in the programme. This taut family drama cuts a divide between a family of four when Sahar, the daughter, enjoys another late night and her parents wrestle to accept the looseness of life in the West. Great performances from all four stars and very precise direction and editing make Sahar an absorbing look at the fissures that devastate a family when ideology and intolerance trump love and forgiveness. This one’s a winner.

Entangled (Tony Elliot, 15 min.) literally divides itself in two when Erin (Christine Horne from We Wanted More) tests an experiment that left her partner brain-dead. The experiment works this time, though, and Erin becomes caught between two worlds; however, the dual lives aren’t compatible and Entangled challenges viewers to decide if accepting reality is better than a comfortable fantasy that comes at a price. This coolly stylish mind-bending is a solid production with its strong performances and top-notch production, but Entangled excels most for the convincing realism of its alternate realities and its philosophical web. The shorts of Short Cuts Canada 4 will have TIFF audiences dancing a line between life and death, and gripping their seats for a few short intervals.

Short Cuts Canada 4 screens:
-Monday, Sept. 8 at 6:15 pm at Scotiabank 14
-Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 9:15 am at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Please visit www.tiff.net for more information on this year’s festival.

*Please note that the SCC short Kajutaijuq: The Spirit that Comes was not available for pre-screening.