Every year some films stand out by embracing cinematic storytelling. But this year, I felt like I was traveling through a wasteland and on the brink of despair, when a cat wandered onto the screen.
My faith in filmmaking was restored with a charming animation, and its valuable message: NEKO NO HI (Cat Days) Jon Frickey, Germany/Japan | 2018, 11:09 minutes | color, Japanese/English subtitles. When dad takes little Jiro to the doctor, a scary diagnosis is alleviated, and then expunged through friendship, and love. Bold colors, strong design, and exceptional production values. The poignancy of past and present is tangible in this drama: IRON HANDS, Johnson Cheng, China | 2017, 11:00 minutes | color, Chinese/English subtitles. Drawn-in by a gutsy teen’s tenacious effort while qualifying for the all-boy Olympic weightlifting team, an unlikely association develops. It proves beneficial for the gal, and the introverted custodian. First-rate camerawork, music.
Two directors creatively visualized plots in their different-as-night-and-day documentaries that are engrossing, thought-provoking behavior studies. A downright thriller: DIE SCHLÄFERIN, Alex Gerbaulet, Germany | 2018, 16:30 minutes | color, German/German subtitles. Stills, newspaper clippings, background visuals, and a granddaughter’s voice account give evidence about neighbors, a murder, and Margit and Irina’s seemingly unconnected pasts. Or are they? Humor, pathos, and poignancy mix: L I S T E N, Astrid Bussink, Netherlands | 2017, 15:00 minutes | color, Dutch/English subtitles. Listening in on the “Kindertelefoon” (Child Helpline), allows access to hearing how experiences affects children on a scale of personal significance and to the child’s sense of wellbeing, and security. Good production values, and sound design in both.
A Grimm fairytale gets an offbeat sci-fi update in: ALL SMALL BODIES, Jennifer Reeder, Germany/USA | 2017, 19:02 minutes | color, English. At a future point in time, in an under-populated and overgrown wilderness, two young girls dodge adversaries, evil, and a boiling pot. As their instincts become sharper, they are put to good use as survivorship guides. Good acting; the production design and values are strong.
Honorable mention: ALICE REMIXED, Karin Fisslthaler, Austria | 2017, 10:40 minutes | color, B/W, No dialogue/German/English subtitles. Images—animations, celluloid, drawings, et al.—and text—Lewis Carroll quotes, Michel Foucault writings—slip through split screens depicting Alice’s tumble down that proverbial hole. A creative, visual cornucopia and music makes for a compelling watch. Fisslthaler’s remix was somewhat remiss in not clearly differentiating the English author and French philosopher’s works.
Even though each one is under 20-minutes, all the films tell a story that has an emotional tie-in, is original and well-made, and that audiences are likely to understand.