Review of ESFF: Love Be Damned

Some thoughts from Edinburgh Short Film FestivalLove Be Damned 

Screened October 25 (initially written October 30)

Love Be Damned was suitably timed as October ticked toward Halloween and this condemnation of love delivered everything you’d expect - resentment, revelation, violence, perversion and actually quite a lot of straight-up murder. On the whole the programme was an original and compelling blend of material and TIGRE (Delphine Deloget) was a fantastic way to start. This film was expertly crafted and knew how to coherently deliver a short story, I can’t believe this was 22 minutes - it felt like a breath - and there is something delicious about a revenge story so ridiculous. Effective visual foreshadowing in the quieter scenes meant that the building sense of atmosphere crafted through set design, pacing and cinematography was gradual and intense. I’ve never been to a safari park and I can’t imagine that the security measures in even the most middle-of-nowhere shitholes are this lax but why spoil the fun?  When you think of what a short film should be, this is it. The characters were unusual but simultaneously utterly believable, and TIGRE had punch to it: keeping you hooked and taking you somewhere unexpected. FANTASTIC PLASTIC (Sarah Tafel) was carefully shot with some tense moments and palpable audience discomfort. This is a story that we’ve seen before but Tafel approached it in a fresh way that caused audiences to linger uncertain as to what was real, and whether or not it really mattered.  ACCIDENT (David Cocheret) was a concise, confident film that I would prescribe to anyone as an antidote to heartbreak. A simple premise made no less satisfying by its short and sweet format, the dialogue was stripped to the bare necessities and every line was carefully crafted to deliver the laughs and the levity necessary. The edit was tight too, with the audience granted just enough time to get a joke before being hurled into something else. Bravo. In contrast, MANO A MANO (Louise Courvoisier) employed indulgent long shots to reveal the complexities of the observed relationship and there were large stretches without dialogue, where the viewer was encouraged to consider the subtleties of the characters’ behaviour. We witness with the couple the constant balancing-act of life as a partnership. Parts of this perhaps lingered too long as sometimes the pacing didn’t feel quite right and I think I would have preferred more time spent in the final scenes than in the middle. I appreciate that this was crafted precisely to take us on a particular journey but I was left hungry for more time together with them at the close of the arc. Maybe I’m just greedy. 

Animated short THE FEATHER PILLOW (Joseph Specker Nys) was visually accomplished with fantastic set design and attention to detail but I spent much of its duration confused and have scrawled in my notes: ‘wins the award for the most heavy breathing in a film outwith the adult film genre’. The sound design is enthusiastic but felt clumsy - relying on visceral squelches that make me think back to old episodes of Scooby Doo and children playing with ‘silly putty’ (plus I guess more recently, those ASMR youtube accounts of people stirring mashed potatoes and cutting hair). At points how THE FEATHER PILLOW looked toed the line of Tim Burton, but the soundtrack missed the mark and this short failed to hit notes in the story that bring such animated horrors to life. THE NIGHT (Martín Romero) used a similarly compelling visual style and the delicious animation almost succeeded in camouflaging a tired motif. When something is done with such confidence it is easy  to presume that it has something valuable to say, and I immediately had high expectations of this short from its unusual and psychedelic aesthetic. Unfortunately I thought the animation was the only ‘fresh’ thing about the film and I was disappointed to uncover that this story is the one of the man who puts his sexual selfishness before all else and in doing so ruins everything. We’ve seen it before. What begins as a love story sours when the wolf-and-moon couple discover a baby and adopt it as their own. This means there is less attention for the wolf-man protagonist and in one scene when he attempts to interact sexually with his partner she bats his hand away. It was then frustrating to watch as an alien she-ghoul lures the protagonist into some water, seducing him with a hand down the pants in exchange for the baby’s life (which he happily concedes) because no matter how surreptitiously positioned in cool pink animation this is the same tired angle: putting the blame of villainy on a representation of the female body. What a convenient way to avoid personal responsibility for this character’s actions and pin the title of ‘baddie’ on some faceless alien metaphor. Whatever it is that the she-demon is meant to represent feels half-formed and the point of narrative no-return falls instead on the denial of consent, to me positioning the woman’s ‘not now’ as the un-doing of the love story. I watched this film and I felt sad - not for the pink wolf-man protagonist who I wonder if we’re supposed to empathise with (who then conceals his actions and sweats a lot) but that we are still sitting as audiences accepting the woman wife as all-loving, protective and pious, the child as demanding and divisive, and the male lead a poor bumbling penis that seeks attention from a creature in a lagoon when he’s told, once, not right now.

As somebody who generally mistrusts romcoms, and especially in a programme titled ‘Love Be Damned’ my reservations for LA LLORONA (Harold Leonard) were robust but quickly abated. This short sees a young heartbroken man on a quest for alcoholic repentance for his broken relationship and plays with ideas of the infantilized single man and societal pressures to be happy. Without the injection of the obsessive, serial-killing ‘weeping woman’ (or La Llorona) this would be at risk of being stale, but thankfully there is a delightful chemistry between the two. Bizarrely charming, the laughs are plenty as this pair of ill-fated romantics come to terms with their respective betrayals. Some questionable edit choices are made throughout, including repeated shots of night street scenes and recycled footage that I still can’t decide were a purposeful device. But regardless of occasional clumsiness, there is something touching about this short that uses its ridiculous premise to make fun of societal stuffiness, leaving audiences charmed instead. But finally, the most arresting short of the night was HORS SAISON (Stella Di Tocco), which struck a chord with me perhaps more than I would care to admit. Somewhere between its documentation of an off-season holiday resort, a woman who courts alcoholism and the treatment of one of the most rewarding and fragile relationships between human and pet, I found a lot of common ground and it was expertly navigated. There’s a lot of complexity in this film and I can’t help but feel this would serve better as a feature as I wanted to stay longer in their world. By hesitating to condone or condemn the protagonist’s behaviour this short was actually deeply sad, gently investigating the commitment of dog to human and the protagonist’s commitment to an idea of a good time that never quite seems to materialise. HORS SAISON was more heart-breaking to me than the other tales of murder, betrayal, revenge and illness. Whilst it might not have the punchy twists and knee-jerk joy of TIGRE or THE ACCIDENT, this is the one that I found myself mulling over on my walk home and this is the one that I will continue to think about - trying somehow to find lessons to be learned.

Congratulations to all the short films selected to be screened and thank you to ESFF for programming this event!

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