Frameland’s Favourite Shorts of 2021
We love shorts at Frameland, a form of cinema that too often still goes neglected. Especially in 2021, when cinemas were still closed all around the world at times, and film, in general, went neglected by many. All the more reason to shine a light on our favourite shorts of the year.
Go Seppuku Yourselves (2021)
Toyoda Toshiaki’s ‘Resurrection Trilogy’ concludes with the 26-minute short Go Seppuku Yourselves (2021), which is equally mesmerising as what came before. The trilogy started in 2019 with Wolf’s Calling (which I wrote about here), an angry cry of frustration in reaction to Toyoda’s unfair treatment by law enforcement, the media and the (cinema) establishment. Toyoda followed this up a year later with the hour-long masterpiece The Day of Destruction (2020), which started out as a protest against the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but turned into an even angrier scream against the handling of the pandemic by the Japanese government.
Go Seppuku Yourselves follows this path, but in a more measured, cynical way (though no less angry). Toyoda takes aim again at the Japanese establishment, by way of an allegorical period piece in which an outsider is blamed for a plague ravaging a community. The samurai ruling class sit pretty atop a mountain (at the same shrine featured in all three films of the trilogy), while the poor die below. A medicine seller tells the dying people that ‘money for medicine’ is their problem, not the disease itself. While a samurai tells him his profiting off the pandemic might lead people to suspect him of having poisoned the well that started this all, as soon as they both spot a roaming samurai from elsewhere, the rulers put the blame on him. They order him to commit seppuku, ritual suicide by way of disembowelment, to which he responds with an angry monologue placing the blame for everything that happened since the well was poisoned squarely on their shoulders, concluding by exclaiming: Go Seppuku Yourselves! And then the blood starts gushing, finally a release for all the tension and anger built up masterfully through sound editing, music and camera moves throughout the trilogy.
Kaj van Zoelen
Blind Body (2021)
Though I finally saw and loved Michael Snow’s Cityscape (he’s still got it!) I gotta give my vote to Allison Chhorn’s Blind Body. An ekphrastic contemplation of the absences film cannot endure. There must be sight, there must be things to contemplate visually (in a matter of speaking) so how then do we fully understand the idea of sightlessness through the image. Not a definitive answer but a mournful and gripping possibility, listening keenly to the voice of someone who has lost all that life can take. It’s overpowering, the way it seems to communicate the feeling of yearning, of needing, and yet remain so serene. Chhorn is one of my favourite filmmakers and this is a worthy follow-up to last year’s Plastic House.
The Lost Paracosmist (2020)
Inspired by her two-year-old son who brought his toys to live in his self-made stories, photographer Josephina van de Water made a short hand-coloured stop-motion film about this phenomenon called paracosm. In The Lost Paracosmist, Josephina creates the imaginary land, Paperland, where different groups of animals (all made of paper too) live. They have a serious discussion about maps and borders and finally succeed in dividing the land into several territories, so it seems at first sight. After all, this system only causes trouble and egoism.
The Lost Paracosmist looks and sounds like a sweet short film aimed at children. However, political references lurk within the sweetness. Through this story about an imaginary world, Van de Water reflects on our contemporary society and political system worldwide. Moreover, her film includes references to film history. Each frame of the film is hand-coloured, which creates that splotchy look we know from the first colour films from the early cinema era. With her film, Van de Water explores the charm, but also the dangerous impact storytelling can have while also reviving the traditional craft of film-making in a stunning way.
The beautiful images are accompanied by a voice-over in which the narrator not only tells the story but also gives each animal its own voice. This way the narration really fits in the film and creates the idea that the story is told from a bird’s perspective. This raises the question of what we would see if we look from this perspective to our world. Probably a real world that looks painfully alike to the paracosm Paperland.
Lisa van der Waal
The Field Trip (2021)
The Field Trip stumbles upon some inconvenient observations on contemporary everyday life. These feel as if found by accident when the trio of Meghan O’Hara, Mike Attie and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck follow fifth-graders around as they re-enact a regular adult working day on a trip. It all happens with an unassuming style leading to a breezy montage of petty struggles. From an office worker panicking briefly after a computer crash to the secretary putting up red tape for their classmates, chuckles abound. One of them asks loudly why life has to be so complicated, unwittingly hitting a nerve about the boring dystopia that awaits them in the future. These funny episodes unsettle in a subtle manner the stultifying experience of alienated labour and a stifling bureaucracy resembling Kafka a bit too often. The contradictory speech after “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the end cultishly tells the children they can be anyone they want to be, despite these American Dream aspirants having received a role for the day based on their teacher’s assessment of their future. The amusing episodes in The Field Trip thus resonate insidiously.
Sjoerd van Wijk