The Human Voice (2020) Written by Jean Cocteau & Pedro Almodovar Directed by Pedro Almodovar
The present COVID-19 global pandemic has forced those in the film industry to change many of their practices. From production to distribution, those who are forward-thinking are adjusting to a world where the traditional exhibition of movies just isn’t going to be possible for a while. I have been most pleased to see many film festivals offering limited virtual viewings of the film they show this year. I will likely never travel to Vancouver, Toronto, or New York City to attend their respective film festivals, but I am willing to pay to view festival circuit films in my home. The Human Voice is the first picture I have viewed in this manner, and it has made me excited to do it again.
Strasbourg 1518 (2020, directed by Jonathan Glazer)
Jonathan Glazer was inspired by an incident in Strasbourg, Germany where the townspeople overcome with a dance affliction, flailing themselves wildly and claiming to not be in control. The condition spread like a sickness and many were caught up in the frenzy. Glazer uses this and frames the same illness against our present-day conflicts. People are growing weary of remaining holed up in their homes. Governments are lacking leadership and kicking the can down the ladder of responsibility until they simply tell citizens it’s all up to them to figure out. Here in the United States, social unrest has come to a boiling point with a desperate President unable to provide a way forward and an opposition party that thinks doing nothing is their path to victory. The images in this short are beautifully reflective of the explosion of emotion and repetition in our daily lives. It’s no coincidence that the first words we hear are “How are you?” A24 is currently streaming Strasbourg 1518.
A married couple, played by Nick Frost & Nikki Amuka-Bird, are celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. She has purchased a pair of linked virtual reality glasses that purport to show the user their ideal self. Meanwhile, another gift for her husband sits on the bed waiting to be given later. I was pleasantly surprised by where this short film went and how sensitive it handled its story. You see Nick Frost and expect something comedic but this is more in the vein of a Black Mirror’s San Junipero. I think these sorts of stories work better in short form that stretched out for an hour, we get straight to the themes and don’t need things over explicated.
Rachel (Directed by Andrew DeYoung) I love the comedic duo of John Early & Kate Berlant. Their Vimeo exclusive series 555 is brilliant, and everyone should watch it. This short film, directed by Andrew DeYoung, who was also behind the show, dramatizes a real-life situation that occurred to Early and his friends at a small house party one night. I don’t want to give away the details, but the short is a beautiful blend of horror, comedy, and that nervous, anxious cringey feeling—one of my favorite shorts of all-time, so simple yet brilliant.
This short begins with a sense of immediacy as live-in housekeeper Teresa discovers she is pregnant. We learn the father isn’t in the picture and that Ter spends her days caring for the young daughter of her employers. She truly loves this girl and manages to hold back her anxieties about the next steps of her life, until the finale. Good but a little slow for a short film, wish I knew more about Teresa.
I was immediately struck by how much this animation style reminded me of the work that came out of the Klasky-Csupo studio in the 1990s (Rugrats, Wild Thornberrys, Duckman, etc.). In this short, chicken factory maven Bernard Lepique has come to a gala dinner in his honor. He uses this as an occasion to introduce his newest genetically modified delicacy, a melange of chicken and antibiotics. The result is a horror movie spoof that sees the effects of this new food creating hordes of monsters. It’s a fun and light satire on the factory farming industry that is animated quite well.
This short is visually and technically fantastic, however, that’s about it. Heat is a joke with a set-up and a punchline. It definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome but I don’t particularly enjoy it. It happened and then it ended. I can imagine director Thessa Meijer doing a great job on music videos but I look for short stories when I watch a short film.
Right off the bat, I loved how this short film looks. It has the color textures of a David Fincher film, those sorts of browns and yellows he heightens in things like Benjamin Button. The story is nuanced and ambiguous in fantastic ways. It’s told from the perspective of a young best man who is getting ready to give a speech at his brother’s wedding. He’s in the bathroom when the father of the bride enters, also about to give a speech. There is a very tense confrontation that frames the rest of the story, leaving us questioning what the father of the bride’s intents are in this setting. The ending leaves us wondering and it’s really great moody stuff.
A man wakes up to the living embodiment of his anxiety standing over his bed, berating him. This continues through his shower, breakfast, the commute to work, and throughout his workday. A man in a green suit standing over him, reminding him of all the things he does wrong. A very interesting twist happens after you think you’ve figured out the premise, and depending on how you feel about that moment, it will color how you feel about this whole short. I personally found it pretty funny.
Gertie finds out she’s pregnant and breaks the news to her boyfriend, Sam. They go through the typical fears and excitements of parents to be. The short is an emotional roller coaster that veers between both comedic and dramatic. These are definitely late Gen X/Millennial people, and the comedy comes out of the social signaling of those demographics. The ending, however, suddenly shakes off those tropes and reminds us how some experiences are universal, no matter when you are born. It’s a fine short film, but a little light sitcom-y for my tastes.