The Oscar Shorts: Documentary
With this year's documentary shorts Existentialism is the mode of the day. Each film is varied in tone and flavor and regardless of your cinematic lean (mine is definitely left of quirky) not one of them will disappoint or leave you slouching in your seat. A single entry is its own provocative, self-contained and unique world.
"Kings Point" by Sari Gilman literally places us squarely in a moderate retirement village in Delray Florida. The inhabitants in this community are no wallflowers. Here you will find enough racy talk about sex and relationships to make Kim Cattrall turn blue. There is the sensually ambitious but dominant Bea, who is demanding but sensitive by turns. With her gold-bangled wrists and fierce mascara, by her own admission, she is clearly no one to cross. Bea has her sights set on the fast talking Casanova Frank who doesn't want to be "locked in" by Bea, in case a solid opportunity happens to arrive on the social scene.
Frank is not the most sympathetic person in this film.
Along with the romantic meditations, there is the apprehension of getting sick, dying, and the haunt of loneliness.
As the deadpan Molly says, "you don't have friends here...you make acquaintances." And although the film zeroes in on a mostly septuagenarian set, the story is no downer. It simply presents King's Point as is, either with the surreal sparkle of John Cheever tale or the melancholy of a tune by Tom Waits.
Next there is the emotional "Mondays at Racine" about a Long Island hair salon that opens its doors free of charge to chemotherapy patients monthly on Mondays. Grim and confrontational at times, the story never loses its heart and you will be rooting for all the patrons here. There is the expressive Cambria and the once shy but resolute Linda who now knows what she wants. Linda's marriage is in trouble and her husband's passivity is terminal. A church goer, he loses his faith and moves back with family. Although painful, we get the feeling that the marriage's end is a new beginning for Linda, whose hubby now seems like a La-Z-Boy chair. The stress of cancer transforms him before our eyes.
Linda in particular takes things in stride as does Cambria and the way they keep going will pull at your heart.
Sean Fine's "Inocente" is the most colorful entry of the bunch and probably the most uplifting. The film centers on a homeless fifteen year old girl, Inocente, who is driven to paint. With her bestial yet melting gaze, self-tattooed with the beauty of calligraphy, Inocente wanders here and there looking for spaces to paint, searching for her own rectangle of paradise. Inocente is like a kiddie Kenny Scharf within her own cyberspace who desperately tries to avoid the squash of her mother, who tried to commit suicide herself when Inocente was ten.
While she is only a kid, Inocente has the theatricality of a Frida Kahlo or a Jean Michel Basquiat. Her eyes alone which contain an entire zoology of weep and wonder will leave you breathless. Had she been born fifty years earlier, Inocente could have been the first Warhol child Superstar.
Jon Alpert's "Redemption" focuses on the desperate and thankless job of canning, that is, the removal of cans and bottles from the urban streets.
It is a suspicious and hard-scrabble landscape with no upward mobility and no security. Fights are as common as heat or bitter cold, while differential behaviors between the sexes become irreverent. Men and women alike clatter by on Jerry-Rigged flotillas laden with sails of aluminum and plastic as Wall Street stands with right angled impassivity.
Last but not least, Kief Davidson's "Open Heart" takes us to a Sudan hospital in the search to save eight Rwandan children. Marie and Bruno are medical pilgrims, mature beyond their years. Fate is in the hands of a chain-smoking, Italian surgeon who has all the severity of a Max von Sydow. I'll agree that the doctor has compassion, but when he says of a patient that "he was born with a shit heart and he'll get a shit heart!" I didn't know whether to hold my breath or laugh, and found myself coughing out of nervousness.
The doctor is not one for softness.
There is hard matter in these films for sure. Not one subject is given the easy treatment. Each story is a tale of human fragility with a good deal of nocturnal noir. But don't let the uncertainties illustrated here scare you. These documentaries possess a world within a world sensibility, with as much verve of most "Twilight Zone" tales, albeit terrestrial, bound with gravity and very, very human.
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