Gregory Go Boom (2013)
Written & Directed by Janicza Bravo
This is another short film from director Janicza Bravo who brought us “Eat” from the first showcase. This short film won the award for the best short film at Sundance the year it was released but also drew the ire of some attendees who were uncomfortable with the picture. This is expected because Bravo intentionally makes awkward, painful dark comedies.
The short is a character piece focused on Gregory, a paraplegic man stuck living with his sister but desperately trying to live up to the expectations of toxic masculinity. He brags about his older brother having 10 girlfriends when in reality he has ten children he’s expected to support. Gregory sets up a trio of blind dates of which the first two are disastrous from the start. The women don’t know he’s in a wheelchair, and Gregory doesn’t possess the social skills to even have a decent relationship. The third woman, toxic in her own way, decides to bring Gregory back to her place and it goes about as uncomfortably as you might expect.
Some audience members at Sundance thought Bravo was mocking the disabled, which is ludicrous and would only come from someone who doesn’t understand the subtext and the tone of the alternative comedy scene. Bravo said in an interview that she has sympathy for Gregory despite his harsh tone, he is an Other trying desperately to deny that and get people to see him as “normal.” Bravo saw the connection between this character’s struggle and her own as a black woman in a culture that has Other-ized her from birth. Gregory Go Boom isn’t an easy watching, but I argue that it’s a rewarding one.
Hedgehog in the Fog (1975)
Written by Sergei Kozlov
Directed by Yuri Norstein
This magical Russian stop motion animated film won some festival awards and a decent amount of acclaim at the time, and has become a cultural icon in Ukraine complete with a Hedgehog statue in the Kiev city center. It stands out from most stop motion fare which is typically done with three-dimensional wireframe figures. Hedgehog was made on a two-dimensional plane, but there are incredibly inventive angles throughout the picture. There are some striking moments when Hedgehog runs into the bushes, and we cut to a viewpoint from behind which transitions into a front-facing shot moments later. While Hedgehog is cartoonish in appearance other characters that appear have a slightly photo-realistic quality.
The premise is straightforward: Hedgehog is on his way to see his old friend Bear Cub to count the stars and share some tea and raspberry jam. There is a dense fog on this particular evening, so Hedgehog gets briefly lost. During this short crisis, he’s stalked by a hungry owl and eventually encounters a ghostly white horse amongst the fog. Hedgehog ultimately makes it to Bear Cub but is haunted by his encounter with the horse, unable to determine if it was just the fog or the actual beast wandering the forest.
The themes of the film revolve around the sense of pleasure that can come from a terrifying experience, how that surge of adrenaline and fear can make one feel more alive. We don’t necessarily see the joy, but the audience does experience Hedgehog’s inability to be in the moment with Bear Cub. The Hedgehog is lost in his thoughts, in his imagination. Anxiety and fixation are often hallmarks of creators of art, their minds taken over by inventions of their vision.
Written & Directed by Satyajit Ray
Indian director Satyajit Ray is one of those figures in film that I have been guilty of not exploring at all. He has had an influence on contemporary filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Abbas Kiarostami among many many more. Ray was in turn inspired to make movies after viewing Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, a significant work of the post-War era.
Two is influenced by the themes of economic class present in the Italian neorealist films, telling a story without dialogue of two boys on different rungs of society having a brief interaction one afternoon. A rich kid is left home alone, wearing Mickey Mouse ears and sipping Coke while lounging around his large house. The sounds of a flute draw the rich kid to his window where he sees a slum kid playing music. The rich kid considers this an opportunity to show off and eventually becomes obsessed with making sure the slum kid sees how much better he has it. This culminates in the rich kid actively seeking to ruin and take away what gives the slum kid any pleasure in his life.
The themes here are very apparent. Wealth doesn’t breed contentment but disdain and loneliness. The rich kid relies so heavily on his status over the slum kid he goes to extreme lengths to impose his power by punching down. The final scene is a melancholy one, the rich kid’s face showing a hint of realization at what he’s done. The power he thought he had is actually a curse over him, his toys creating a cacophony of sound and a toy robot knocking down the tower he’s carefully constructed.