Photo courtesy of the NFB.
This shorts nominees at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards include several films that thrive with vibrant musical energy. These films sing with jazzy beats, soulful numbers, cracked-out vibes, and hilarious ditties. They’re a terrifically original bunch of films.
First up is one film I’ve been meaning to review since the pre-TIFF days of August: BAM (Howie Shia, 6 min.) is a furiously gritty animated film that pulses with brooding energy. The film is a story of male anger and urban alienation in a dark city haunted by gods and spirits. A young man, a boxer, finds the wrong outlets for his rage when violence erupts on the subway platform. Shia evokes the anger of the gods as the subway train morphs into the tail of a dragon and the boxer spews forth his own fire. Red blood pops out against the depressed blues of the film’s hand drawn palette, and the anger and ferocity of the film amplifies with the cymbal crashes and violent tempo of the score by Leo Shia and Tim Shia. The film decrescendos and comes up for air when the boxer finds love on the land above, but the gods intervene and BAM repeats this cycle of violence. This adrenaline-pumping short clashes the folkloric elements of the animation with the passionate accents of its jazzy soundtrack to create an angry, compassionate portrait of the violence that urban jungles breed.
BAM sits in good company with its fellow animated NFB nominee Carface (Auto Portraits) (Claude Clouthier, 5 min). This wonderfully random film, which made the Oscar shortlist for Best Animated Short, gives a send up to Big Oil as an old gas-guzzler belts out the words to “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera).” The car sings as the world falls into disrepair, and more and more old clunkers join in the chorus. Carface creates a satirical ballet as the cars leap and jump like the spoons of Beauty and the Beast and dive the world into chaos. The cars keep singing and the pumpjacks keep cranking out oil, but Carface carries its tune in spite of the disorder. It’s a funny and truthful number about the inaction of the masses who coast in cruise control as the planet goes to shit.
On the live action side, the shit hits the fan in the riotous comedy Roberta (Caroline Monnet, 9 min.). Roberta gives Marie Brassard (Vic+ Flo Saw a Bear, The Forbidden Room) the juicy role of a pill-popping granny and she relishes the opportunity without OD-ing. Decked out in some pinky furry heels and a bizarre golden pantsuit ripped from a wardrobe of 1980s/early 90s’ faux pas (those kind of things your mom wears in family home movies), Brassard struts her stuff to Roberta’s haywire routine. This grandma/homemaker can only escape suburban blahs by mixing booze and amphetamines, and the actress gives a tour de force performance conveying the highs and lows of Roberta’s drug-addled malaise. Monnet’s direction is especially fine both as a feat of comedy and as a study in addiction/illness by letting the central performance carry the film. Moreover, her droll framing of the humdrum houses that line Roberta’s street challenge the idea of sunny suburbia, for one never knows what goes on behind closed doors.
The Screenie shorts hit a high note with the live action film Blue Thunder/Bleu tonnerre (Philippe David Gagné, Jean-Marc E. Roy; 21 min.). Blue Thunder rightly has the claim to being the best Quebecois mid-life crisis musical ever made. Okay, let’s avoid hyperbole and just call it the best Quebecois mid-life crisis short musical ever made. It’s hilarious, zany, and imaginative, especially since the cast doesn’t exactly have the vocals of say, Céline Dion. The perfectly-average-to-crappy vocals of the actors are entirely the point, however, as Blue Thunder belts out some tunes. (Anyone’s life can have the magical escapism of the movies, eh?) The film features an out-on-his-luck logger named Bruno (Dany Placard) who gets dumped, loses his home, and gets fired from his job. All he can do is sing a new tune to chase away his mopey spirits. The novel conceit arises with good humour as Bruno tries to make his break-up amicable with a song, but his ex (Isabelle Blais) dismisses him and the song fades after a bar. Cue his sister (Sandrine Bisson) and life’s a happy song. Blue Thunder carries this tune for twenty minutes thanks to the spiritedness of the actors, who belt out these silly numbers without any self-consciousness. One can hardly imagine a more unique, enjoyable, or original short this year. It’s a hoot.
Stay tuned for more shorts!
The Canadian Screen Awards air March 13 on CBC.