Before The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), Sylvain Chomet made the award-winning The Old Lady and the Pigeons (La Vieille Dame et les pigeons, 1997). The animated short features an impoverished and starving gendarme who dresses up like a giant pigeon in order to be fed by an old woman (and that barely scratches the surface of how hilariously bizarre the short gets). Chomet was inspired to make a film of his own after seeing Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and set upon his production after pitching the concept to Didier Brunner of the French animation studio Les Armateurs. Backgrounds were designed by Chomet’s comic book collaborator Nicolas de Crécy, although the two would later fall out over Crécy’s view that Chomet improperly copped his style for the designs of The Triplets of Belleville. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is silently comic and strangely surreal and establishes many of Chomet’s characteristic styles and themes, making it an easy access point to Chomet’s limited filmography. It is also a quick 24-minute scratch for those of us still itching to see his next film, The Thousand Miles, a Fellini-inspired story about the world’s most beautiful road race, Italy’s Mille Miglia.
Spring is here, Easter is this weekend, MMC!’s next imagined release is taking typically longer than expected, and it’s been some time since a post have gone up, so now seems like the perfect opportunity to offer something cute, furry, and vaguely off-centre. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to appreciate Fyodor Khitruk’s trilogy of short films adapting A. A. Milne’s beloved tales of Winnie-the-Pooh for Soviet audiences!
Khitruk’s trio of Vinni-Pukh films — Winnie-the-Pooh (1969), Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit (1971), and Winnie-the-Pooh and a Busy Day (1972) — were made out of Soyuzmultfilm studios and without the director having seen Disney’s theatrical short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1966). Khitruk’s initial interest in the character came from English editions of Milne’s stories and he was only exposed to Boris Zakhoder’s Russian translations later. Zakhoder served as screenwriter to the Trilogy and he frequently clashed with Khitruk as Zakhoder promoted an approach faithful to the original stories while Khitruk sought to transform the material. The films reflect Khitruk’s vision, doing away with the authority-figure of Christopher Robin and presenting Milne’s characters living forest creatures, not stuffed toys brought to life. Pooh remains rather dim, but he is far more assertive and boisterous than Disney’s bear. The animation is wonderful, merging the primitiveness of children’s drawings with the clean abstraction of mid-century modernism and the earth-toned colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The films adapt three stories from Milne’s original 1926 book, avoiding stories from Milne’s 1928 sequel, The House at Pooh Corner, which introduced the Tigger character. If these adaptations are new to you, congrats! You are now free from the adorable hegemony of the Disney films!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Bandits of Orgosolo • Ten Documentary Shorts by Vittorio De Seta.
Heralded by Martin Scorsese as “an anthropologist who speaks with the voice of a poet,” Italian director Vittorio De Seta produced a string of extraordinary short documentaries in the 1950s that distill their subjects to pure cinema. Shooting in vivid color in the rural villages of Sicily, Sardinia, and Calabria, De Seta captured the rhythms and rituals of everyday life among the fishermen, miners, shepherds, and farmers who continued to live and work according to the preindustrial traditions of their ancestors. These shorts were followed by Bandits of Orgosolo, which presented with neorealist authenticity the tragic plight of a poor Sardinian shepherd unfairly accused of rustling and murder. Together, these miniature marvels and this hardscrabble feature-film debut stand as essential, ennobling records of a vanished world.
- New, restored 4K digital transfers of all eleven films, overseen by the World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays:
- The Age of Swordfish (1954 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Vittorio De Seta’s rhythmic editing adds drama to this chronicle of a Sicilian spearfishing expedition.
- Islands of Fire (1954 • 11 minutes • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) This prize-winning short is a poetic portrait of life on the coast of Sicily before, during, and following a volcanic eruption.
- Solfatara (1955 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Harshness and beauty exist side by side in this look at the lives of sulfur mine workers and their families in southern Italy.
- Easter in Sicily (1955 • 10 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2:35:1 aspect ratio) De Seta captures the music and pageantry of an Easter celebration in Sicily.
- Sea Countrymen (1955 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The rhythms of the sea set the tempo for this vivid account of a day in the lives of Sicilian fishermen.
- Golden Parable (1955 • 10 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Filming amid the flaxen wheat fields of Sicily, De Seta documents the everyday rituals of farmers during harvest time.
- Fishing Boats (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The unpredictable nature of the sea governs the world of Sicilian fishermen as they work, rest, and seek refuge from a storm.
- Orgosolo’s Shepherds (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The striking landscapes of rural Sardinia provide the backdrop to this lyrical look at the hard-earned lives of the region’s shepherds in winter.
- A Day in Barbagia (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) From sunrise to sunset, De Seta chronicles the lives of Sardinian women who look after both home and fields while their shepherd husbands are away tending their flocks.
- The Forgotten (1959 • 21 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) De Seta travels to a remote province in southern Italy to capture a unique celebration known as the “Feast of Silver.”
- Bandits of Orgosolo (1961 • 95 minutes • Black and White • Monaural • 1.37:1 aspect ratio) Returning to the Sardinian countryside, De Seta presents a ruinous portrait of a poor shepherd wrongfully associated with some bandits and forced to flee, taking his flock and his younger brother into remote, inhospitable lands.
- Introduction by Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival chief Gian Luca Farinelli
- New interview with director Martin Scorsese
- Détour De Seta, a 2004 documentary by Salvo Cuccia
- The Filmmaker is an Athlete: Conversations with Vittorio De Seta, Vincent Sorrel and Barbara Vey’s 2010 interview with De Seta
- New English subtitle translations
- PLUS: Essays by scholar Alexander Stille and critic J. Hoberman
Happy Christmas Eve! And what better way for MMC! to extend its season’s greetings than by sharing Chowboys: An American Folktale (2018), the final work of Winnipeg’s irreverent Astron-6. Here, three stupid cowboys struggle to survive in the frigid mountains on the coldest night of the year. Beautiful hands, sheet cakes, St. Nicholas, and cannibalism make for a wacky and gory holiday short set on Christmas Eve. God bless us, everyone (although maybe not Wendigo Santa).
Seeing as how it’s snowing and blowing hard today, what better way to celebrate this chilly Halloween than with some spookerrific shorts from the National Film Board of Canada. We’ve got surrealist worlds, honking monsters, devilish visitors, chicken leg houses, and anti-smoking PSAs.
Batmilk (Brandon Blommaert, 2009)
“In this animated short, an oafish ghoul and his soft exposed brain are met with ruin when the brain is unexpectedly killed. Though paralyzed, the ghoul attains a fresh brain and is fed with new life. ” (NFB)
The 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival comes to a close today with a handful of screenings (including MMC! favourite, Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen’s For the Sake of Vicious, and its closing film, Keil McNaughton’s The Legend of Baron To’a)! Be sure to check out my Letterboxd list for the 2020 FIFF which has nearly 150 reviews and ratings of Fantasia features and shorts and which will continue to grow beyond the conclusion of the Festival.
MMC!’s round-up of its favourite feature films screened at Fantasia will be coming soon, as will individual posts imagining the Festival’s best titles for spine-numbered glory. In the meantime, MMC! celebrates its ten favourite short films screened at this inaugural online edition of North America’s greatest fantastic film festival. Here we go!
Who Goes There? (Astrid Thorvaldsen, 2020)
I often get cranky with horror shorts for cheating themselves by offering contexts rather than stories and passing off tone as plot. Who Goes There? is a case study in creating a proper horror short. Made by Norwegian-born, British filmmaker Astrid Thorvaldsen and shortlisted for the 2020 Student BAFTAs, the film is set on an 1880 Minnesota homestead where two sisters, one pious and fearful and the other assertive and irreligious, struggle to care for a third sister taken by a grave illness. The arrival of traveling doctor on the verge of death himself raises concerns that a supernatural force preys upon them and leads to a series of fearsome twists and revelations. The 24-minute film is purposefully paced and totally assured in its direction, avoiding the types of ostentatious visuals that too often plague such shorts. The result is a mini-masterpiece with a convincing period-setting, foreboding and dreadful tension, and a clever conclusion that keeps up the film’s “show, don’t tell” approach to character-driven storytelling. Who Goes There? is currently being developed by Thorvaldsen into a full feature and deservedly so.