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Cinema16: European Short Films

Some of the best directors working today, whether abroad in relative obscurity or amid the grimy existential zillion-dollar glitz of Gotham City

Reviewed by Shawn Badgley, Fri., Sept. 7, 2007

DVD Watch

Cinema16: European Short Films

Warp, $29.98

I've long preferred short films to features if only because there's less movie to watch and fewer credits to roll. That harmony is disrupted somewhat when confronting a two-disc set comprising 16 of the little bastards running for more than three hours. However, it's soon restored when realizing who and what we're dealing with: some of the best directors working today – whether abroad in relative obscurity like Sweden's Roy Andersson or, in the case of Christopher Nolan, amid the grimy existential zillion-dollar glitz of Gotham City – and their early work (or recent, as with Nanni Moretti, Martin McDonagh, Toby MacDonald, and the animator Run Wrake).

"Doodlebug" (1997), Nolan's three-minute contribution, is a student film, and it bears the traces. From the close-up of the clock to the close-up of the phone ringing to the cut from the close-up of the clock to the close-up of the phone ringing in a pitcher of water, it recalls the old Onion headline "Giant Cockroach in Bathroom 'a Harrowing, Kafkaesque Experience,' Grad Student Says." Something tells me Nolan was going for this, but even if he wasn't, it's still fun. And it's an example of what Cinema16, which marks its first North American release with this after three similar collections, promises: "access to some great films that would otherwise be near impossible to see."

Near impossible to get out of your head once you do is Andersson's 1991 masterpiece "World of Glory," a grotesque parade of washed-out sets and wretched situations lamenting a life devoid of empathy, and Wrake's "Rabbit" (2005). The "simple morality tale about greed," as he calls it in his accompanying commentary – 13 of the 16 shorts include tracks – involves a boy, a girl, a rabbit, an impish golden idol, cases of plum jam, and boxes of jewels. Each is Photoshopped and animated from a set of 1950s educational stickers Wrake found at a secondhand store. Apparently the only thing he improvised was the backdrop of death and destruction. Brilliance abounds.

But even "Rabbit" – here a frantic, textured, and hyperstylized companion to Jan Svankmajer's classic "Jabberwocky" (1971) and its meticulous stop-motion Super-8 ornateness – can't keep up with Andrea Arnold's "Wasp." Her 23-minute-long story of a 23-year-old single mother of four trying to find time for a night out with an ex is just that: a short story more than a short film. Layered, saturated with light and color, and well-acted (even the infant, Danny Daley, gives a tour-de-force performance), the 2003 effort would prefigure the artistic and critical success of Red Road a few years later.

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