Having said all the programmed screenings of the Edinburgh Short Film Festival have been well-balanced, the second Sunday night screening was a highlight. The selection of films was exceptional. With the theme of faith and belief, of humour and tension in religion, and with the usual contrast of styles and lengths, it was an evening of soul-searching, gut-wrenching, and thought-provoking films.
Or, as it is said in the ESFF brochure, an evening when ‘faith truly has hit the fan!’
This was a reflection of the title of the first film, which took an immediate left-field approach. A disgruntled, sweary priest, a pregnant woman, and a random passer-by find more than their faith being put to the test, with comic results.
Each film in this selection seemed to be balanced or contrasted with another. Later in the programme came a similarly comic film in which another priest was facing his demons.
Behind the irreverent title, In the Name of the Strawberry, the Chocolate & the Holy Spirit, and beneath the absurd humour, this was a film that nonetheless had a genuine theological message.
The hapless priest in some Italian village found himself tempted by the ice-cream shop that had taken to Sunday trading. Everyone but the poor priest was eating ice-cream; meanwhile, he finds himself longing to yield to temptation.
As the ice-cream vendor says, “Father, how will you resist greater temptations?” it is clear that this film, for all its lightweight humour, is about something deeper and universal, beyond religion’s blind obedience. Not all the films were kind to Christianity’s strange ways.
Another two films that seemed to balance each other concerned the fate of young girls in the clutch of religious weirdness. In Peccatrice a girl approaches her first communion with a mother who treats her like a princess and a father who treats her like s**t. While just a child, she is quite precocious; even at the confessional her language suggests knowledge of sexuality well beyond her years.
In the ‘matching’ film, Tomorrow Might Be the Day, the young protagonist seems to be in a strange relationship with a man she calls Nicolas, who seems to be in loco parentis but also appears to be some kind of cleric. It has a far more cultish feel to it than the Roman Catholic themes of the former film, but the young girl’s fear of water refers to baptismal initiation ceremonies.
There is so much in both of these short films that a single viewing cannot reveal. The metaphor that each plays on is of drowning… but exactly what this represents is food (or water) for thought.
Another two films that seemed to match and clash were animations. Bavure was an intense and skilful piece with extraordinary effects that sounded and looked as if paint was being slapped onto glass. It then stretched into shapes and stories that took us from primordial existence into space-travel. Inevitably, when humans meet extra-terrestrial life, it is the gun (or the phallus?) that decides the future relationship.
The companion to this was a touching and tender animation about the cycle of life. A bucolic and fanciful piece, a gentle shepherd and his obedient dog tend to a flock of sheep whose wool becomes a fluffy cloud that rains over the land in a sweet moto perpetuo … until the old man dies. The dog has to find a way to shear the sheep (some sharp-thorned bushes provide a solution) in order to save this pastoral idyll.
The strength of this film is the way an audience can be taken in by the absurd notion that sheep provide woolly clouds that prevent the earth from drying out. There are no guns – unlike in Peccatrice and Bavura. But the theme of drowning from Tomorrow Might be the Day contrasting with the drought-risk in After the Rain demonstrates the ingeniousness of the programming.
At the centre of the evening’s screening, Chaos subverts all expectations, and turns everything upside down. Or better put, back to front: the entire film runs linearly backwards, providing a perfect centre-point – a fulcrum – for the intense and provoking fare on show. After watching this film, and questioning their senses and tenses, the audience were prepared for far greater shocks.
Two further films that balanced each other out left questions that may never be answered. That is what good art is about: leaving gaps in the narrative that allow the viewer to construct their own understanding of what is being said. Religion – especially fundamentalist – could learn a lesson from this idea. In Black Hat we saw a young married Orthodox Jew struggling with his sexuality.
This was a revealing look at an LGBT+ situation that isn’t often portrayed outwith the Christian Church’s historic institutionalised homophobia. But the final film went well beyond religious ideology, and got under the skin of the hatred and prejudice that mars society’s faith in humanity.
Many of the films shown during this festival are award-winners, and many are UK premieres. Guy Nattiv’s film Skin won the Best Live Action Short Film at this year’s Oscars and, according to ESFF’s Director Paul Bruce, it has divided opinion. As part of this screening, I suspect it hit the spot.
In what starts as a tender family film, where a young boy is encouraged to engage in pursuits perhaps a little beyond his age, a sudden volte face reveals alarming racism that results in a brutal attack. However, the retribution for this abhorrence paves the way for a shocking denouement.
Regular readers of my reviews know that I try not to spoil a plot. All I can say is that this film, and its guttural shock tactic, was made even more powerful in the context of this expertly selected and perfectly balanced evening. While I can recommend every film shown, each for a different reason, the real joy was to experience the juxtaposition and contrast that only a short-film festival – especially one as expertly curated as ESFF – can bring to an audience.
WHEN FAITH HITS THE FAN – Luna Hartvigsen & Thea Juul Blay
BAVURE – Donato Sansone
TOMORROW MIGHT BE THE DAY – Josefa Celestin
BLACK HAT – Sarah Smith
CHAOS – Samuel Auer
IN THE NAME OF THE STRAWBERRY, THE CHOCOLATE & THE HOLY SPIRIT – Karla Lulic
PECCATRICE – Karolina Porcari
BULLET TIME – Frodo Kuipers
AFTER THE RAIN – Valérian Desterne,Rebecca Black,Juan Olarte,Juan Pablo De La Rosa Zalamea, Carlos Osmar Salazar Tornero, Lucile