OIAF Review: Short Competition 5

But Milk is Important
If there is only one screening you can attend during the final day of this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, let it be Short Competition 5. Short Competition 5 easily boasts the cream of the crop of shorts I’ve seen at the festival so far. These films are dark and daring. There’s only one juvenile dud to be had among the strong field: Ici, là et partout (Here, There and Everywhere) by Japanese animator Sawako Kabuki, whose “ass juice” anthem Ketsujiru Juke was also the low point of Short Competition 3. The rest of these shorts expand their imaginations beyond vulgar sight gags and angst-ridden love-letters. The films in Short Competition 5 are audacious and original must-sees.

The programme begins with the visually dazzling ninja pic Yeondansu (Chaeyoung Park, South Korea), whose paint on glass animation is a standout among the competition. Following the ninja swordplay is a chilling avant garde piece called Lonely Bones (Rosto, France/The Netherlands), which is an elaborately constructed nightmare and hallucinative film about the dark side of dreams. Psychoanalysts in the crowd will love it, as will fans of challenging and formally inventive works. This Maya Deren-ish piece is a highlight of the programme. Equally noteworthy is the dreamlike gangster film Thugs with No Legend (Gianluigi Toccafondo, France), which is bound to garner some attention thanks to the credit of Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone as a producer. Thugs is a haunting and gritty throwback to old-school gangster films as Toccafondo accentuates live action violence with unforgettable ghostly animations that make the violent tale unsettling and macabre.
Like Rabbits

Other strong points in Short Competition 5 come with two of the festival’s standout black comedies, Trouble on the Green (Hanne Galvez, Yoann Hervo, Stéphanie Pavoine & Pierre Zenzius; France) and Like Rabbits (Sticky Ends, chap. 2) (Osman Cerfon, France). Both these French entries see grumpy, melancholy men—one a stodgy Frenchman and the other a morose fish—spread their cantankerous attitude amidst an atmosphere of joie de vivre. Trouble is a funny apocalyptic tale while Rabbits is an endlessly laugh-inducing carnival ride that brings death from bunnies and birds. Both films have an off-kilter visual scheme to complement their quirky tale of doom.

Doom and destruction are magnificently realized in Theodore Ushev’s Gloria Victoria (Canada), which I reviewed during the Toronto International Film Festival but must praise again. Ushev’s experimental opus of the history and legacy of the war machine is doubly impressive on the big screen. An imposing staccato work that culminates as both a tribute and an addition to the legacy of wartime iconography, Gloria Victoria is a stirring film. It demands to be seen with the sight and sound of a theatrical experience in order to be appreciated in all its glory. Gloria Victoria is easily the best Canadian film in the competition.
Gloria Victoria

The rhythm of Gloria Victoria is followed smartly by the two-step rivalry of Ping-Pong (Natalie Krawczuk, Poland). Ping-Pong sees two friends face off in a game of table tennis sans rackets, ball, or table. A comic relative of the mime tennis match in Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Ping-Pong animates the missing game pieces in the minds of viewers as they follow the increasingly frenetic match. Ping-Pong ends with a hilarious bang—sorry, bad puns are becoming infectious thanks to the “give him the hook” intros that begin each screening—and will have viewers laughing and declaring the competition “game, set, and match” for Ping-Pong.

A rival for the latter two films for the title of best film in the programme, not to mention “Best of the Fest,” is the hilariously bizarre But Milk is Important (Eirik Grønmo Bjørnsen & Anna Mantzaris, Norway). But Milk is Important is a strange and surreal tale of a lonely apartment dweller who feels responsible for the death of his apartment superintendent when he sends him off to the corner store to fetch some milk. As the hermit watches the super stroll back from the errand, said superintendent keels over and dies, crushing the carton of milk and marinating in it as his life slips away. The milk-loving recluse is then plagued by a visit from an overly friendly fuzzy creature, which looks like a cotton jellybean with fleas. The cute creature hangs over him like a shadow, invades the man’s space, and tries to push him out of his comfort zone. But Milk is Important has occasional currents that make the film feel like a nightmare, but it evolves into a sweet fable about overcoming one’s fears. The ingenious mix of style and the wickedly-handled shifts in tone make But Milk is Important a consistently suspenseful and constantly funny odyssey. But Milk is Important is surely a frontrunner for OIAF’s audience award if the enthusiastic reaction to the film is any indication. It would be fitting to see a film from Short Competition 5 represent the best that OIAF has to offer.

Short Competition 5 screens again:
Sunday, Sept. 22 at the ByTowne at 11:00 am.

Please visit www.animationfestival.ca for more information.