The dark and dreary, the cute and quirky, and the fantastically absurd were all on display Tuesday night for the opening gala of the 18th Worldwide Short Film Festival, as seven award-winning shorts kicked off the week-long celebration of pith and power in film.
The 80-minute showcase kicked off, fittingly perhaps, with an exploration of freedom and love, by way of the light. Luminaris is a stop-motion short from Argentina about a man who makes light bulbs seeking escape from the banality of work, and the oppression of darkness. The charm continued with an animated French film Dripped about a curious art thief plagued by a peculiar habit in an amusing homage to Jackson Pollack that is ultimately about expression.
The standout of the evening however was Armadingen (Armageddon), where Walter, the grumpy half of an elderly married German couple, hears word of an asteroid heading for Earth and the end of days. On their farm, away from the chaos of life, Walter strives to keep the knowledge of sure death away from his wife, as he tries, albeit with some difficultly, to express his love for her. Filled with heart, the 23-minute short throws in a few surprises with those laughs and tears, and though the world’s end may be inevitable, Walter still has control of his final hours.
Where there is happiness and caprice, there is the other side of life with a trio of shorts that offered more sadness than whimsy to balance the evening. Abuelas from Argentina is a stop-motion film recounting the troubled lives a generation of woman had to endure in Buenos Aires amid government oppression. Trotteur, the only Canada short in the opening night lineup, is visually arresting, as amid a bitterly cold snowfall, a young and spirited man races a powerful locomotive, a challenge that serves as a chilling reminder of the hardships of youth. And In The Fisherman, an elderly man recounts the past while honouring the Day of the Dead, fishing for his most cherished memories that have come and gone.
With such a pleasurable and literally bright opening such as Luminaris, the gala then had to conclude in a similarly apt way, a French film about cruel irony cleverly titled The Elaborate End of Robert Ebb. The short got the most laughter out of the crowd on the evening, as the young night watchman gets into just a little bit too much trouble when a simple prank goes horribly wrong. It is 13-minutes of bizarre hilarity and sci-fi parody, and while the end is never in doubt as told by the title, it is the journey that is the most satisfying.
Each of the seven shorts presented on the opening night are memorable in their own way, with Abuelas, though clever in its visual story-telling style, connecting the least with the crowd, and The Fisherman serving as the most emotionally impactful. Still, it is likely that Armadingen and Robert Ebb will serve as the real winners, with humor, liveliness, and their unforgettable conclusions.