OIFF Review: Shorts Programme 2

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
The second shorts programme at the 2014 Ottawa InternationalFilm Festival doesn’t quite match the overall caliber of the first one, but the excellent doc The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (Dir. Malcolm Clarke; USA/Canada/UK, 39 min.) more than gamely ensures that this screening lives up to expectations. This winner of the 2013 Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject is an outstandingly inspiring affirmation of life. It’s worth the admission alone.

The Lady in Number 6 lets late 109-year-old Holocaust survivor Alice Herz Sommer share her extraordinarily optimistic story about her experience during the war. Alice, an avid pianist, tells how her talent spared her from the harshest conditions of the Holocaust. Alice explains in her sprightly, endlessly upbeat cadence that the Nazis orchestrated an ideal community of Jewish artists and intellectuals in a concentration camp called Terezin where they had the prisoners perform daily so that the Nazis could create propaganda about how well the prisoners lived at the camps. As Alice tickles the ivories of her piano and stirs the soul with her beautiful music, she explains how the buoyancy and euphoria of the music largely masked the horrors of the Holocaust. Even her late son, she notes, was on record saying that life at the camp “wasn’t all that bad.” Alice’s friends and fellow camp survivors agree that their skills in the arts kept them relatively shielded from the daily death marches and facilitated a survivalist mentality that was essential to making through each day. The Lady in Number 6, beautifully composed and balanced, finds an unexpected note of optimism out of one of the most horrifying chapters of contemporary history. Alice’s philosophy and outlook on life simply demands to be seen and shared, and The Lady in Number 6 gives a lesson that all audiences should hear.

The Lady in Number 6 easily eclipses the other films in the programme, but Shorts Programme 2 of OIFF also features a sweet tale of loss in Ausencia/Absence (Max Valverde; Costa Rica, 17 min.). Absence, like The Lady in Number 6, also shows art’s ability to heal and inspire individuals in the face of death. The film suffers somewhat for relying on child actors, but the innocent sentimentality of the film gives it an undeniable appeal.
Bear Story
Less sentimental and more brightly cheerful is the animated opus Bear Story (Gabriel Osorio Vargas; Chile, 17 min.). This joyous dance of the imagination sees a bear earn his keep using marionettes and putting on a show for coins on the street. As the bear puts the wheels of his contraption in motion, Bear Story vibrantly puts sets the gears turning for the bear’s own life story and brings to life the nuts and bolts of the bear’s own heart. Lovely animation and a poignant message of love and family make Bear Story a fine complement to the infectious celebration of life that The Lady in Number 6 offers earlier in the show.

The shorts programme also features Carry On (Yatao Li; USA/China, 16 min.), which is sumptuously shot, yet tonally uneven. Carry On features some thematic overlaps with both The Lady in Number 6 and the programme’s weak final film Raab da Vaasta (Chakravarty Devulapalli, India, 10 min.), for all three films feature tales of enduring horrible circumstances of violence and war. They don’t really fit with Bear Story, though, and Carry On feels a bit too blunt in comparison to stronger films in the programme, especially since it dances with comedy and drama with two left feet. Carry On is aesthetically flawless, though, and features a moving performance as a father helps his daughter escape extermination by the Japanese. The final film, however, is awkwardly staged and cheesy. It’s utterly forgettable. However, it’s certainly impressive to see such a wide international reach in a single programme at the festival, for Shorts Programme 2 whisks Ottawans to five corners of the globe for extremely different stories. It’s just too bad that the first destination is the easily the best stop on the trip.

Shorts Programme 2 screened at the Ottawa International Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 19 at The Mayfair Theatre.

More OIFF coverage may be found here.