Cinema16: European Short Films

We’ve all seen the blockbusters of Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Lars von Trier, but what about their early short films? Typically, shorts play the festival circuit then fade into obscurity. However, Britain’s Cinema16 rescues several gems with this stunning collection of 16 shorts made by Europe’s finest. Spread over two discs, with an informative booklet and 13 director commentaries, Cinema16 is a cinematic buffet that mixes experimental, animation and drama of consistently high quality. Many of these shorts rely on wordless visuals to tell their stories. Nolan’s Doodlebug finds a man chasing a rodent — himself — echoing the elliptical structure of his later Memento. Similarly, Virgil Widrich’s Copyshop features a protagonist who replicates endlessly, filmed by animating a multitude of black-and-white photocopies. Before Dawn, by Hungarian Balint Kenyeres, records an eerie human smuggling operation in a field until the police descend. Animation stands out in this set: Juan Solanis’ award-winning The Man Without A Head mixes live action with digital retouching; Jabberwocky is by master Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer; and Rabbit explores the bizarro picture-book world of Londoner Run Wrake. Traditional narrative is found in the sardonic Election Night, by Denmark’s Anders Thomas, which touches on racism and idealism. Another black comedy is Oscar winner Six Shooter, by Ireland’s Martin McDonagh, which captures an encounter between a widower and a bratty young man on a train. Wasp, by Andrea Arnold, is a heartbreaking character study about a single mother raising her kids. On the flipside is Toby MacDonald’s charming Goddard homage Je T’aime John Wayne. Not every film delivers. World of Glory, by Sweden’s Roy Andersson, is considered one of the top ten shorts of all time but is really a tiresome exercise in pessimism. Mathieu Kassovitz’s eight-minuter about a French boy trying to impress a girl at a basketball court is charming but slight. Ridley Scott’s Boy and Bicycle is long and wordy. And Lars von Trier’s Nocturne is all mood without story movement. A redeeming aspect of this set is the superb commentaries, spoken by filmmakers who have gone onto bigger and better things. For them, these films are nostalgia, but for us they are revelations. (Cinema 16)