A refuge and a means to counter risks

Kieron Corless
Sight & Sound magazine
10 Apr 2017
Photograph: iStock / philipimage

Does risk increase if you’re unaware of it? The question kept popping into my head while watching several of this fascinating crop of short films, particularly the eventual winner Me Miphone & I (outstanding title!) by Juan Cruz-Hernández.

This short comes across almost like an anti-advert, giving the lie to all those insidious pieties about technology connecting people. Paradoxically, the Iphone here not only shapes and controls the protagonist’s behaviour, but makes her think she’s in control, happy even. A device that purports to bond in fact can just as easily isolate and atomise.

To put all this across in such a short space of time was impressive, so too the unfussy direction, light treatment and central performance. One lovely image of the protagonist asleep with her iphone nestled by her throat refuses to go away. Best of all though, we’re not encouraged to feel more knowing than or superior to the protagonist, partly because the acting is so strong and perfectly pitched, and partly because we’re all uncomfortably in this business of being atomised together – if that’s not another paradox.

So, if not even knowing you’re at risk is far from ideal, conversely you can know too much, as in Let’s Plan a Holiday, an amusing mini sitcom on the theme of climate change. If environmental concerns take precedence as you plan your break, you might end up going nowhere. Knowledge-overload for our engaging trio breeds a head-in-the-sand apathy and shrugging retreat (to the pub in this case, where else?). But as the drinks flow, the waters and the temperatures inevitably keep rising.

In the superbly directed Inertia, set in an Indian marketplace, a trader is poised to kill a chicken, as he does day in-day out, but impending fatherhood casts the slaughter in a new light. This flash of potential enlightenment is a trap, however, since he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. And what about the wide-eyed child taking it all in? The editing was a kaleidoscopic marvel, evoking the situation from all kinds of angles, stretching and refracting a moment into a furious constellation of looks and glances.

Flight Risk was the most subtle and moving of the winning films. Risk here was less about issues, more about emotions, especially trust, as they surface and play out in the relationship between two sisters and an off-screen mother, who’ve experienced some unexplained breach in the past. Pacing was nicely unhurried and camera placements were just so, allowing the excellent actresses to shine. Sound and music choices too were carefully thought out, building atmosphere and mood impressively.

A more in-the-round female experience emerged in the solo effort Risk, which explored different angles on the theme through a first-person female voiceover alternating between prose and poetry; like an experimental diary carried off with some aplomb. There were a good few memorable images, such as the egg boiling in a pan, or smoking a cigarette on the street at night with a male stranger, that lingered long after the final credits. For me, this film felt typical of many we watched; the self under threat in an age of precarity, where independence, especially for young women, must be fought for. The overriding fear is of potential unfulfilled, of forces denying you the autonomy to take your own creative risks.

We decided to give a special mention to Days Passed, one of the most mysterious and striking entries, in which the central character enacts a suicide. Even if it was hard to figure out in places, and undeniably raw and stilted, you couldn’t mistake the imagination on display, or the atmosphere of subdued threat and dread. 

The creativity in these films was not just a refuge but a means to counter a range of risks, to understand and defuse them, hence their commitment, honesty and vitality.

Kieron Corless is deputy editor, Sight & Sound magazine