Florida Film Festival review: International Shorts

Most people think designing a shorts program begins and ends with picking the films. And then there’s Matthew Curtis, the programming director of the Enzian Theater and the Florida Film Festival. A consummate professional, he starts by picking shorts that complement one another and ends by massaging the order until it feels just right. The longest short is usually at the end, the tone is carefully balanced, and the program doesn’t begin or end too jarringly. He doesn’t always get it correct, but when he does, the programs are a pleasure to watch – helped in no small measure by the almost equally talented programming coordinator, Clementine Leger.

With that said, a shorts program is only as good as its films, and the International Shorts program is usually one of the festival’s better blocks. This year’s seems fairly strong once again. If I were to give the overall program a star rating, it would flirt with a 4 before settling in at a solid 3 on our 0-5 scale. And at 98 minutes, and with a healthy mix of English- and foreign-language choices and comedy and drama, it’s a nice watch. (Remember, these are all live action. For animated, choose the International Animated block. And don’t forget the second block of live-action international shorts, consisting of four longer flicks.)

Now let’s take a closer look at the 10 films and – to paraphrase Steve Martin – get reeeaally short.

The micro-short Don’t Eat the Meatball (2 stars) brings the block to a crisp, hilarious beginning. Nothing more than an adorable dog desperately resisting the urge to eat a ball of beef, it’s pure cinematic irresistibility until it ends abruptly with an overly cute, end-credit photo montage. Sigh. It could have been just a tad meatier.

That comedic substance is provided by the second offering, Makeover (3 stars), which showcases, in cartoonish fashion, an elderly man’s attempt at a Benjamin Button-style redo with nothing more than items found around the house. After some painful nips and tucks, he’s ready for his date with a youthful goddess, or is he?

In Bad Hunter (3 stars), a young man in Kurdistan comes to the aid of a woman who has been sexually assaulted, only to have the awkward situation come back to haunt them both in an unpredictable way. Directed by Sahim Omar Kalifa, this 15-minute drama is the second best of the program and offers a strangely intriguing commentary on both gender inequality and kindness in a country whose values might be more similar to ours than we had thought.

In the one programing slip-up of the block, Bad Hunter is followed by the worst short, the German-language Happy B-Day (1 star), which starts well but doesn’t capitalize on is slick cinematography and originality. It simply doesn’t know how to end and seems unsure whether it wants to be a dark comedy or a laugh-out-loud tribute to Monty Python’s Black Knight. Ultimately, it’s neither. But, hey, our rating system does allow 0 stars, so it could have been worse.

Belying its title, Pop-Up Porno F4M (3 stars) is a quirky and touching, though slight, story of a breast cancer survivor’s experiences with a new potential boyfriend. Told through the turning pages of a crudely drawn pop-up book, Stephen Dunn’s film saves its darkly funny yet slightly sad punchline for the very end.

In an Egyptian-run grocery in Switzerland, trouble begins after a woman misinterprets a father’s reprimand of his child. A melee ensues – fueled by confusion and racial biases – until the young girl seems the only remnant of sanity. Discipline (3 stars) is not terribly weighty, but it’s a nice comedic addition to the program thanks to its solid acting, brisk pacing and social commentary.

With four solid shorts under its belt, the program at this point feels ready to bust out with something excellent, and it does just that with Flash (4 stars), an inspired reimagining of the typical photo-booth experience. Embracing the genre of mystical romance, Alberto Ruiz Rojo’s dialogue-free film, at just 7 minutes, gives the block that healthy dose of surrealism I’d been hoping for.

Coming back down to earth slightly, we get Thicker Than Water (3 stars), which is no less original than Flash but just not as tightly edited or magical. Seung Yeob Lee’s Korean-language film is probably unlike any other vampire film you’ve seen, offering the themes of alienation, discrimination, love and sacrifice instead of violence, camp and those pale dudes who sparkle while spouting nonsense from badly written screenplays.

The originality keeps on coming, though in a slightly small dose, with Russian Roulette (3 stars), which focuses on two lonely video-chat daters – one who just happens to be in outer space. A sweet though overly simple look at loneliness, Ben Aston’s 5-minute film gets the most credit for its erotically amusing ending.

At 24 minutes, the Dutch-language Wien for Life (2 stars) is the longest film in the program. (Remember the aforementioned Curtis formula?) I can’t question its placement, but, unfortunately, this film wouldn’t quite work in any position. Tedious and tonally flawed, Alidor Dolfing’s tale of friends fighting over a winning lottery ticket strives for dark comedy but instead seems more like an uninspired, though well-acted, dramatic medication on selfishness and bad decision-making. Just like the doomed characters, the director and writer needed slightly better luck.

Though the material here won’t shock most adult audiences – Midnight Shorts this is not – the adult themes and mild violence means you’ll need to leave the kids at home. This program plays on April 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village and again on April 19 at 1:30 p.m. at the Enzian.  

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