Arts Desk

DC Shorts, Showcase 11: Lies, More Racism, and Cake

88MilestoMoscow

Love and romance are easy subjects for a short film. They're easy to relate to, for one thing: Who doesn't want a little romance in their lives? More importantly, most love stories do not require many complex characters. Two is the minimum, and the tension between them is plain to see. There are many love stories in DC Shorts' Showcase 11—some are heartwarming, others are downright disturbing—and they speak to the subject's versatility. And if that doesn't float your boat, at least there's a racist cartoon.

Love Doesn’t Care (Kärleken Bryr Dig Inte): A young Stockholm couple get ready to host their friend for dinner. Actually, she’s never met the guest before—he lives in Paris now—but the two young men go way back. Love Doesn’t Care is a gentle portrait of the instant connection two people can sometimes achieve, even when the committed boyfriend is utterly oblivious to what happens between the eyes of his girlfriend and his buddy. There is little actual drama here—it's all beneath the surface—which makes their underlying passion all the more erotic.

Red Poppies: Two young lovers reunite at a funeral. It’s unclear what their relationship is—they experimented sexually when they were young, to the chagrin of her father—and this is their first time seeing each other in three years. Red Poppies is a strange short: It has a happy ending, but it also includes discussion of rape and suicide. We’re not left with a clear idea of whether the couple should be together since she suffers from mental illness and he’s complicit with her quirks, and so there’s an odd tension that keeps the intrigue high.

Sandbox: At three-and-a-half minutes, this one only has enough time for a set-up and a payoff. It’s about a group of soldiers in the desert who suddenly come under enemy fire. The situation looks grim, but then nothing is quite what it seems. There are a couple of clever surprises so audiences may experience a chuckle or two, which is all the filmmaker seems to want.

88 Miles to Moscow (pictured above): Nikita is a terrific liar. She went to visit her father, a drunk and an ex-con, and now Niki’s mother is grilling her about what happened. 88 Miles to Moscow jumps between Niki’s train journey with her father and the long conversation with her mother, so we know precisely how she’s lying. She does it protect herself as well as her father: She steps off the train for a smoke, and when the train leaves without her, a young Russian man comes to the rescue. This is a cute coming-of-age story, and a reminder than the truth can be stranger than the fib.

About Me: This is a Russian cartoon and the style is deliberately simple. We only get the voice-over from a little girl, and the animation looks like a children’s drawing (the characters are more static than fluid). Her story is told with energy and she sounds cute, yet About Me is so slight that even children would find it boring. The only highlight is in the final minute when a caricature of an African character is absurdly racist. It’s jarring and unintentionally shocking.

Something Novel: Jasmine Rae is a cake sculptor in San Francisco. Her cakes look like other things, whether it’s an clove of garlic, a viking helmet, or a suitcase. Something Novel is about her approach to life and business: It provides some detail about her unusual but loving childhood, then goes into her work ethic and how psychology informs it. There is nothing here that Ace of Cakes hasn’t already done, except for the painfully tepid guitar in the background.

In the Garden of the Nile (Dans le Jardin du Nil): Set entirely in the confines of a hotel room, In the Garden of the Nile is frustrating because nearly all the dialogue happens over the phone. An actress gets a call she’s not needed on set until the afternoon, so her morning is free. She also gets calls from her friends Olivia and Matthias, who went on a date in Paris. What follows is a series of truncated conversations while the actress grows increasingly annoyed with her friends. There is a large point about the impasses of dating, but they have no impact since it’s mind-numbingly boring to watch someone take a phone call. The filmmaker should have had the actress meet Olivia and Matthias in person, at least; or perhaps, with a budget this tight, skipping the whole short may have been more prudent.

Not reviewed from this showcase: Karlstod (Karl’s Death), for which an advance screener was not available

Showcase 11 showtimes (see a complete schedule):

Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at E Street Cinema
Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. at E Street Cinema
Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. at E Street Cinema
Sept. 28 at 5 p.m. at U.S. Navy Memorial

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