2015 Academy Award-Nominated Documentary Short Films: Program B
2014, NR, 79 min. Directed by Various.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 30, 2015
Owing to their longer running times, the five films nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject have been divided into two programs for this limited theatrical run. Both programs are punishing, as the collected films examine suffering from different angles.
A few minutes into the Polish production “Our Curse” in Program B, I wondered if expectant parents should be warned away from it. New parents, too – after all, diagnoses don’t always reveal themselves right away. Then again, anyone who flinches at a baby in distress will have trouble here, so that pretty much eliminates everybody with a pulse and a pinky finger’s worth of compassion. It’s an absolute brutalizer. But it’s worth it. In fact, it feels like a privilege to be let in.
“Our Curse” is the intensely personal account by husband and wife Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki of their experience with newborn son Leo, diagnosed with a rare, often-fatal respiratory disorder called Ondine’s Curse. (Essentially, the body when sleeping stops breathing on its own.) The night before they bring home Leo for the first time (he spent his first months in the ICU), they set up a stationary camera to record themselves – exhausted, unguarded, clutching wine glasses on the couch – as they consider the future with a son who is in many ways still a stranger. The future is bleak. The present is overwhelming. Once Leo is brought home, there is an extended scene – shot in a close-up of Leo with his parents’ hands flitting in and out of the frame – that documents the arduous process of removing, cleaning, and reinserting his tracheostomy tube. The new parents are still getting the hang of it. You can hear the stress rise in their voices. Leo wails, but the sound is stolen by the tube in his throat. It’s shattering to watch. But it’s worth it. Promise. It is a strange and intoxicating thing to watch love bloom, and that’s exactly what happens between parents and child. And that, turns out, is just as shattering to watch.
The other two films in the program suffer from comparison. J. Christian Jensen’s “White Earth” is a well-intended but unfocused look at the personal toll an oil boom takes on a tiny North Dakota town. And of Gabriel Serra Arguello’s “The Reaper (La Parka)” – at face value a portrait of a Mexican slaughterhouse worker meditating on his job and mortality – its graphic depiction of slaughterhouse conditions is the stuff that turns not just stomachs but carnivores into leaf-eating penitents.