Melbourne International Film Festival 2020 Shorts Round-Up: Animation

The shorts screenings at MIFF have long been an integral part of the festival, from the local director Accelerator program to the experimental “WTF” selection (a personal favourite). Freed from the constraints of a traditional sequential screening, how many and in which order we watch the shorts are now up to us. So of the animated shorts’ impressive line-up, which ones should we take in first?

The films featured below differ in visual style, language, and tone. But they share an interest in the mundane – elevating everyday moments to explore what it means to have a body, to die, to live.

Ghosts

South Korea • Dir. Park Jee-youn

A young woman and her partner laze around in their apartment. A neighbour upstairs watches them from a hole in the ceiling and floods the couple’s flat with water. The woman goes upstairs to talk it out, while her partner starts practicing his swimming – and as it turns out, their day can only get stranger. Ghosts, directed by Park Jee-youn, transforms the humdrum of everyday life into an experience both comical and surreal.

The film’s largely monochrome palette and thin pencil linework recalls the work of Junji Ito, as does its horror: there’s plenty of staring eyes, body transformation, and mysterious holes where there shouldn’t be. Yet while Ito’s work utilises these elements to instill fear, Park’s Ghosts is more philosophical – almost romantic – with the characters largely accepting of the increasingly bizarre occurrences in their flat. 

The film’s off-beat sense of humour disarms its occasionally gruesome imagery from being truly terrifying. It’s horror with low stakes, a gradual build-up of Sunday afternoon dread. If wasting away inside your apartment isn’t too #relatable right now, Ghosts is definitely one to watch.

Flesh

Brazil • Dir. Camila Kater

“I think that no woman lives in her own body.”

The opening spoken words of Flesh announces the film’s thesis statement — an ambitious one to explore in only 12 minutes, but one director Camila Kater manages with care. Building from personal monologues of five Brazilian women, Flesh draws powerful parallels across vastly different experiences of womanhood.

Flesh is split into parts, with titles beginning at “rare” and ending at “well done” irreverently referencing the different stages of the women’s lives. Each segment is animated with different techniques sympathetic to their themes: a story about a girl starting her period uses bright watercolours to produce visuals awash with flowing liquid; an anecdote about a woman’s relationship with food begins with a stop motion painting on a plate.

Yet perhaps the most striking element of Flesh is its tone. The film touches on fatphobia, homophobia, and the harassment and dangers faced by trans women. But carried along by its meditative soundtrack, the film never descends into outright tragedy. Instead, Flesh is an optimistic expression of truths which complement, not contradict.

Something to Remember

Sweden • Dir. Niki Lindroth von Bahr

Formed around a Swedish classical piece, Something to Remember is a short musical which is more commemoration than celebration. One by one, as its non-human characters take turns to sing verses of the mournful, haunting song, everyday life takes on an increasingly fatalistic tone. A baby bird in an empty zoo goes first, singing about the inevitability of meeting the devil. It’s beautiful, if bleak, with only the final moments providing both context and any mention of hope.

As Lindroth von Bahr’s fourth stop-motion short featuring anthropomorphic animals (and her second musical), Something to Remember’s slugs, pigeons, moles, and mice move with slow, fluid grace. The mostly static camera gives ample time to appreciate the meticulous detail in every scene. The film’s phenomenal realisation of its sets – a petrol station, a press conference, a mattress store – provides gravitas to what could otherwise easily be a comedy.

That isn’t to say the film is devoid of humour. A slug at the doctor’s laments he is filled with eternal, contagious grief: a blood pressure band is wrapped around his whole body since he doesn’t have limbs. Bonus points are also awarded for wonderfully accurate subtitles, teaching me the word “appanage” – an endowment to a younger child in a royal line who would otherwise not stand to inherit anything. The word’s roots from Latin meaning “to give bread” ties neatly with many of the characters being pigeons… (or not). Perhaps that bow is drawn too long, but Something to Remember is undoubtedly subtle and layered within its sadness.

The Animation Shorts bundle screens for free as part of the 2020 Melbourne International Film Festival from 6-23 August. 

View the MIFF site for more info.

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Agnes Forrester is a screen writer and critic based in Melbourne, Australia. She has even more opinions on Twitter at @cartridgepink.

Agnes Forrester