TIFF Reviews: 'Benjamin', 'The Sleepwalker'

(Canada, 16 min.)
Dir. Sherren Lee, Writ. Kathleen Hepburn
Starring: Joanne Boland, Kimberly Laferriere, Jean-Michel Le Gal, Jimi Shlag
Programme: Short Cuts 7 (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF

Who has more right to a child? The father? The mother?

Biology might have something to do with it, suggests the provocative short Benjamin, which raises tough questions and rejects easy answers. This film directed by Sherren Lee, a production of the Canadian Film Centres’ Short Dramatic Film programme, tackles a very contemporary construction of family that has yet to really find definition even in our ever-open-minded culture. The film opens with lesbian couple Della (Joanne Boland) and Sophie (Kimberly Laferriere), both of whom are enjoying pregnancy for a few brief minutes until Della loses her baby. The loss of the child becomes especially complicated when the film reveals that the surviving child, Benjamin, is the son of gay couple Teddy (Jean-Michel Le Gal) and Cal (Jimi Shlag). Reeling from the loss, Della and Sophie want to reneg on the deal and drop their friends of their child to save the one in Sophie’s womb.

Benjamin asks a troubling question as the women assert that they have more of a right to the unborn child than the men do. (It goes unsaid, but one assumes that the two men impregnated the women in a kind of mutual partner-swap to let both couples receive the child they always wanted.) Strong performances by all four actors refuse to let the viewer side with either couple, as Lee lets the human drama simmer with a power that leaves the viewer reeling. The loss the women face is brutal, especially because one is able to see the physical loss of their child, but the Benjamin ends by leaving one shaken by another loss that feels more unfair because a conscious choice inflicts it. The film, for a second, takes a dangerous risk by suggesting that one couple does indeed have more of a right over a child than the other does, but the devastating loss echoed in the final shot shows that a parent-to-be always carries a baby in his or her heart, even if they don’t physically hold the child until birth. This powerful drama is a provocative and compelling study on the way we conceptualize the family.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Benjamin screens:
-Sept. 14 at TIFF Lightbox 4 at 6:45 PM
-Sept. 19 at Scotiabank 11 at 3:45 PM

The Sleepwalker (Sonámbulo)
(Canada, 4 min.)
Dir. Theodore Ushev
Programme: Short Cuts 6 (North American Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF

Under the gypsy moon,
all things are watching her
and she cannot see them.

Get ready for the dreamy rhythms of Theordore Ushev! One of Canada’s most prolific geniuses in animation, a favourite for Gloria Victoria, returns with the hypnotic short The Sleepwalker. The Sleepwalker brings to the screen a funky interpretation of the poem Sonámbulo by Federico García Lorca (read it here) and like great poetry, it conjures a world of sentiments and feelings with an inspired mix of syntax and imagery. Ushev’s signature mix of structuralism and abstraction paints something like a Picasso work as shapes and sounds collide to make a visual equivalent for The Sleepwalker that makes the image of a woman longing for a life that eludes her. Ushev once again displays a masterful use of colour and an even better hand at structure, grammar, and timing as various shapes swirl to the hypnotic Balkan beats of the film to create visual poetry and animate the sounds to life. The Sleeperwalker more of the same from Ushev, but that’s never a bad thing when his work is always so good.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

The Sleepwalker screens:
-Sept. 13 at Scotiabank 13 at 9:45 PM
-Sept. 19 at Scotiabank 11 at 9:45 PM

It also screens at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in Short Competition 1 on:
-Wed. Sept. 16 at the ByTowne at 9:15 PM
-Sunday, Sept. 20 at the ByTowne at 1:00 PM

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More coverage on this year’s festival can be found here.